How a Change Team Dies & How to Save Them

Sadly, I’ve watched many centralized change teams (e.g., Lean Offices, Agile Groups, Morale Committees) die organizational deaths. Much of the suffering prior to their demises has been at their own hands, though I doubt they would ever see it that way.  Hence, I offer my perspective as another version of the story that may prompt self-reflection and learning.  In this blog post I’ll focus on three main ways that a change team dies.

  1. They drive people. When you use some form of coercion (e.g., orders, fear of negative consequences, removal or application of positive consequences) to compel others to change, you are draining away from them and yourself some amount of energy.  This slow-but-steady drain eventually depletes either the change team or their victims (er, clients).  This drain usually goes unnoticed until a leader of one of the client organizations takes action to force a senior leader above the change team to cancel their work.  Many meetings are held to question what, if any, value the change team is providing.  Eventually, the senior leader gives in, saddened by the situation, but powerless to disagree.  A central change team can save itself by switching to driving change, choosing this change (obviously) and clearing the obstacles for others to choose it to.  By removing themselves from driving people, they will have removed a huge obstacle for their clients.
  2. They lag behind the clients they purport to serve.  When a central change group is created, the presumption is that they are the thought-leading, practice-leading experts who can, with their full-time devoted to the change work, pull the entire organization along on their knowledge and experience.  Yet, many central change teams may start out ahead of some of their clients, but usually aren’t out ahead of all them.  Swelled with the pride of their new organization, the change teams can fall into a trap of arrogance, and disconnect from the thought and practice-leading clients and begin to create “the standard” way of doing the work, which is often more theoretical than practical, and often lags the learning that the clients are doing in the field.  A time progresses, the gap between the leaders and the central organization grows, as the leaders are still driving for results and the central is driving for scalable, controllable models (one size training, one process implementations).  When the gap gets big enough, or the tug of their lagging standard gets big enough, the leaders will again appeal to the senior leaders to choose between the results they are getting for the organization or the overhead of the centralized team, which failed to help the leading group get any better, faster, or cheaper.  A central team can save itself if it rediscovers its humility and links itself to the leaders in a driving change way of obstacle removal and pushing out the edges of organizational limits.
  3. They focus on their program, versus on their clients or their results.  When I ask a central change team, what are you working on, and all they tell me is about internal meetings, internal plans, and internal processes, I know they are slowly dying.  Their attention has shifted from their clients and client results to themselves and their results (or activities often) and with this shift they have lost the focus they need to deliver on the reason they were created: results.  They can save themselves if they shift their time together to figuring out how they can faster support their clients and remove the obstacles their clients have identified or ratified.

There are many great people in the world doing their very best to drive implementations of worthy changes and methods.  I hope this outline will help them see ways they can avoid common problems and keep themselves serving their clients well for years to come.

 

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Overcoming an Overwhelming Amount of Change

Even if I wanted to stop the changes in my life, I don’t think I could.

My kids are growing up, and with their growth comes new lessons for me as a parent.

My career is expanding into new assignments and new locations: constant change and a different type of growth.

And now I’ve added to that learning all about book publication, marketing, and distribution.  Now, I’m tired.

When I’m overwhelmed by change, I focus on a piece I know I can control.

For example, I can’t control the tax codes across states, let alone countries, so I’m going to avoid tackling that for now.  But, I can control who I reach out to with the news about the book’s publication. Plus, with that option I get to reconnect with old friends. Yes, I’ll focus on that for now.

You will get overwhelmed, but you don’t have to stay overwhelmed.  Find something to focus on, hold on to it and rest, then get back to swimming through the sea of change.  You can do it.  I believe in you!

Why not try?

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

And there is nothing new under the sun

In Ecclesiastes. Solomon said,

And there is nothing new under the sun.”

I’m reminded of that often, when I find something novel and then find it restated somewhere else, slightly differently, later.  Yet, in the midst of “nothing new,” there can be different and better.  Different in the sense of new ways of combining old things.  Better in the sense of closer approximating what others meant, but could not say.

I reflect on these thoughts, as Engine for Change turns seven years old.  This blog started as a way of capturing the old stories told over and over to new Guiding Coalition members.  It expanded to contain the ups and down and rants of a change agent, constantly seeking better ways of explaining the “nothing new” so others could embrace the repetition and learn how to respond better the next time they got a chance to make their change happen in the world.

Thank you to all of you who’ve been on this journey with me.  Just this morning, on Facebook, I saw a like on a photo and I was washed over by the memories of so many people and changes that came before.  (And, this photo of Tom as an invincible engine for change).  I started to wonder, what changes are coming next.  How can we best be ready, together?

As I continue to teach new people the essential learning contained in this blog, and as I share the message of Driving Change instead of Driving People globally, I’m grateful to all of you who keep reading (even though I’ve barely blogged in two years), who keep thinking, and most of all who keep driving change.  Change is a challenge, but together and with the right change philosophy to guide us, we can–and are–changing the world!

Perhaps it is time I return to blogging.  I’ve missed you.  I’m ready now.  Thank you for sticking with me.  Let’s have another seven amazing years.

What is it we always used to say? I remember now.

Why not try?

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Driving Change Globally

My new role in a global company is already teaching me new lessons. Today’s important lesson is that supporting a global organization requires schedule flexibility.

I was on a call this morning at 6 AM to support a group in Eastern Europe.

I was on a call late tonight at 9 PM to support a group in India.

And the best part is that I didn’t mind.  I love what I do so I’m happy to do it.

When you’re asking yourself, “How can I get people to support a global organization?”

One answer is recruit people who love their work.  It’s not the only answer.  It’s just my answer.

Goodnight world.  Time to end this long day.  There’s a lot of change to drive tomorrow.  I must be rested.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Thoughts from a Change Agent

Today I recharged my batteries with a few great articles by and videos about Admiral H. G. Rickover, my favorite change agent.

First, I’ll share a clip out of his speech, “Thoughts on Man’s Purpose in Life,” given to various audiences over several years (a benefit of the pre-Internet age).

The task of finding a purpose in life also calls for perseverance. I have seen many young men who rush out into the world with their messages, and when they find out how deaf the world is, they withdraw to wait and save their strength. They believe that after a while they will be able to get up on some little peak from which they can make themselves heard. Each thinks that in a few years he will have gained a standing, and then he can use his power for good. Finally the time comes, and with it a strange discovery: he has lost his horizon of thought. Without perseverance, ambition and a sense of responsibility have evaporated.

My favorite line is “he has lost his horizon of thought.”  Wow! Who would want that fate? Who wouldn’t want to keep those following behind them from falling into the terrible trap of waiting until they are someone before they try to do something?  I don’t know about you, but that line pushes me to re-double my mentoring efforts to keep the spark of thought and action alive in as many minds and hearts as I can touch.

I followed up reading the speech above with watching some great footage of Admiral Rickover being interviewed by Diane Sawyer for 60 minutes.  The video is a quick 16 minutes, but within it you learn a lot about why Admiral Rickover is a great change agent to study if you want to improve your powers of perception. From what he does and what he says he believes, try to pull  the essential “whys” behind his “whats.”  Does that make sense?  He doesn’t tell you why he does things.  He just tells you what he does.  You are left to infer why and through that inference and testing your inference your mind grows.

Watch the video then read the rest of this post, because I want to share a few of the lessons I picked out of the footage, but I’d rather you know what points I’m referencing before you see my explanations of them.

Admiral Rickover. /. 60 Minutes from Paul and Holly on Vimeo.

Some of the lessons for change agents in this video.

1. All change agents, but especially those pushing the limits of technology and challenging an entrenched culture at the same time, require the good will of at least some people in power to protect them and let them work.  Rickover was passed over for promotion by the Navy over and over.  Senators and Congressmen continued to intervene on his behalf.  Rickover cultivated their support, but he did it in a unique way: through results.  He gave them results that were worthy of praise and allowed them to attach their names to his program’s achievements.  When Rickover learned unceremoniously of his forced retirement via his wife hearing about it on the radio, it isn’t surprising that many of his long-time congressional supporters had already either left Congress or were weakened in their power over a new Navy administration.  Without his protection, even his results weren’t enough to keep him in his job.  This model of results mattering for not when protectors leave is repeated over and over again in Gifford Pinchot’s book, “Intrapreneuring.” (It’s worth a read if you’re an internal change agent.)

2. Change agents need to focus on the results they are producing and the benefits of those results to the world.  They shouldn’t focus on what others think of them.  There’s a fabulous book by physicist Richard Feynman, titled “What Do You Care What Other People Think?” that carries forward the same message.  I loved how often Diane Sawyer tested Admiral Rickover to see if he would show some emotional response to others’ impressions of him.  Every time he refused, at times almost seeming confused about why she would bother to ask.  I too often allow what other people think to bother me, so I regularly use Admiral Rickover and Richard Feynman as my mentors in ignoring other people’s opinions.  If you are similarly stricken with a need for everyone to like you, I lend my mentors to you to use as well. They won’t steer you wrong.

3. Your answers don’t matter if the questions are wrong.  If you’re hoping to transform anything, this is a big lesson to learn.  The quality of the questions you ask will determine the quality of the answers you find and if other people are asking dumb questions, then it is incumbent upon you to ask better ones.  Don’t expect anyone else to do it for you.

4.  If you can’t think when things are slightly askew (e.g., an Admiral has sawed off a few inches from the front two legs of your chair) then you can’t think fast enough to solve the essential problems you’ll face if given responsibility over anything that matters.  One of my personal missions in life is to correct all those who have learned the wrong lesson from hearing “Rickover stories,” of the closet and the chair and the pony tail and other challenges to would-be nuclear officers.  Too many people look only at the surface, judge it with their own maliciousness, and presume that Admiral Rickover was drunk on his own power and tormented the men for sport.  How foolish that story is on even quick evaluation of the facts.  Here was a man who took his responsibility over a complex technology very seriously, who gave speeches on living a life of purpose without sloth or waste, and who didn’t care what other people thought.  Why would he waste one moment on such a purposeless act as pure maliciousness?  I find his use of what instruments he had at his disposal in his Washington office ingenious.  Quickly, he could induce a state of partial uncertainty in each candidate and watch their reaction.  If they folded, or defeated themselves, or worse, while being slightly put-off in an office, how could he expect them to act when challenges arose at sea, whether in a submarine or on an aircraft carrier, with a mission to complete and men to lead?  We can all learn from his disciplined purposefulness to make every situation a teaching and testing moment.  Think of how you can quickly test potential candidates to join your team to drive your change.  How can you simulate through a day-to-day situation some of challenges you know they will face while they drive the change?  How did they hold up? Do they need a little time to develop or would you rather not invest in having them on your team?  Your change may not be delivering the first nuclear powered submarine in only five years, but if it matters to you maybe it’s worth trying your own purposeful screening methods.

I could probably go on and on.  My friends do claim I’m obsessive in my admiration for Admiral Rickover.  I’ll stop my points for change agents and close by saying that I hope you are lucky enough in your life of scholarship, of searching for new learning, to find someone from which you can learn as much as Admiral Rickover has taught me.  He’s certainly one of the men that I will seek out in heaven on whatever day I get there.  (That may be one of the few places Admiral Rickover and I disagree.  I believe there is a heaven and I look forward to the day I get to shake his hand and thank him.  I’m better for his example.)

Good night my fellow change agents.  May you grow bold and courageous to live out the purpose of your life.  Why not try?

 

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Implementation is the tough part

Over the years I’ve blogged a lot about implementation.  Skill in implementation, more so than the ability to create a good idea, is key to success in your organization.  They are mountains of good ideas that never change the world.  The difference comes when a good idea is tied to effective implementation, preferably one centered around the philosophy of driving change.

Here an old goodies out of the Engine for Change archives about implementation that’s worthy of a second read: Implementing success.

If you’d like to read more, try:

Staying Sober and Driving Change

Insider or Outsider

If You Can Keep It

Policy Buffer

False Challenges to Implementation

Two Types of Small Wins

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Improv Facilitation

What should you do when you are tasked to lead a four-day facilitation and you have less than a day to prepare?

Improvise.

Now, to improvise requires more than just the classic bag of facilitator tricks.  It takes a willingness to stumble along the way, and an extra large bag of tools at your disposal, one right for every situation.

You start the week with the usual introductions and final goal setting.  “Hi, my name is…” “By the end of the week we are expected to…”  Notice the use of “we” vice “you.”  I find it better to be in league with your team when you’re going through an improv facilitation.  That way, your struggles are their struggles and they aren’t looking to you to carry them along, so much as pull your own weight in your facilitator role.

Next, if you don’t know where the solution will lie, begin looking about.  My favorite looking about technique is the Cognitive Edge Future, Backwards method.  The key to it lies in using the introductions to discover who has like perspectives or like experiences and then grouping like-with-like so you can accentuate the different perspectives within the group.  I was lucky enough to have a few seasoned facilitators as participants in my four-day group and they commented on the important difference of grouping like-with-like, something they had never tried.  They quickly noticed how it pulled out the perspectives much more than their typical mixing people up strategy ever does.

After doing the typical post-Future, Backwards debrief (i.e., What’s the same? What’s different? What’s surprising?) I pivoted from my typical move into an anecdote circle and instead used the current state, positive future, and negative future states as the fodder for creating clumps of like-with-like.  This allowed the worried participants who wanted to preserve their work from the Future, Backwards to carry that work forward vice using it merely as a jumping off point.  I’d never tried that detour, but it worked really well.

After creating over 50 clumps and naming each clump, the group then split up into pairs to write two stories for each clump. The stories must answer two prompts:

1. We want to hear more stories like…

2. We want to hear less stories like…

The pairs wrote out their stories and they were captured for the final report in a format looking like:

  • Category Title:
  • More stories like…
  • Less stories like…
  • Current state attributes:
  • Positive future state attributes:
  • Negative future state attributes:
  • Written by:

This format allowed both for cross referencing of who was lending their personal experience to the stories and gave the details to those not participating about what attributes built to create the stories.

The next step was to make these stories operational.  To do that a different pair was asked to take the category sheet with stories and write actions (or parts of actions) that must be taken to move toward the “more stories like…” or away from the “less stories like…” These actions were then categorized (due to the four day time constraint) into the Cynefin domains.

Because we were looking for a combination of quick wins and long term investments to begin immediately, the team then worked through an exercise where starting with the simple domain, we moved the discrete items from the Cynefin onto a two-by-two priority matrix.  One axis was speed to implement and the other magnitude of impact to the organization.

This prioritization allowed the group to next focus on building action statements for the high impact quick wins and the high impact investments.  Each category was ranked by multi-voting (i.e., each person got to vote for their top five in each category).  Teams of two then fleshed out the top six voted quick wins and top six investments into action statements starting with, “On Monday, the organization should…”  For simple domain items the action would assign who would take a specific action.  For complicated domain items, the action discussed what experts should be consulted.  For complex domain items, the action discussed what sort of team to form and what a few of the first safe-to-fail experiments might be.

The final result was a one hour briefing (30 minute presentation with 30 minute questions) and a 69 page final report with a one page executive summary, three pages of the prioritized recommendations broken down into the four priority categories (i.e., High Impact Quick Wins, High Impact Investments, Low Impact Quick Wins, and Low Impact Investments), twelve pages of Action Recommendations (i.e, one page for each of the 12 action ideas the team fleshed out), and an appendix that included each category page that was mentioned above.

Of note, at the bottom of each action page was a list of several of the team members that volunteered to work on the action should the organization accept it to proceed.  This was an important feature because too often teams are organized to come up with ideas, but they aren’t expected to carry out their own proposals.  The team believed in their proposals enough to pledge themselves, their time, and their reputations to making them happen.  I think that send a powerful statement to a deciding official whenever an action recommendation is made.

The briefing was a hit, with many who attended commenting on the thoroughness of the product, the enthusiasm of the team, and the obvious commitment of the team to move this objective forward.  I could not have been prouder of the 12 people I was lucky enough to work with that week.  They accomplished a lot.

So, in closing, should you have the opportunity to do some improv facilitation, enjoy yourself.  You never know what you’ll come up with.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Let your light shine

When times are tough, and you think others will never join you in your change, keep believing in yourself, in your ability to show through your actions that the change is possible, and in your light that you shine into the world.

Tough times are dark times.  Be the light that others follow to get out of the darkness.

You know your change matters.

Shine. Shine bright.  If not now, then when?

Why not try?

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)