John Kotter’s latest Harvard Business Review article, Accelerate, came out this week. It’s a must read. All those readers who are also Guiding Coalition participants will enjoy the fact that for years you’ve been living in the system that Dr. Kotter introduces to the world in the article. We don’t get to live on the leading edge often enough. Enjoy it my friends.
Rob is always feeding me great videos. Here’s Shawn Achor’s TedTalk on happiness.
Hugh Huck started sharing videos with me too. I’m glad to have him in the Engine for Change network. Here’s a great one he showed me from Margaret Heffernan. (My favorite line comes from Alice’s daughter: “My mother didn’t enjoy a fight, but she was really good at them.”) Heffernan’s tale of Alice Stewart‘s challenges echoes the “no one believed me, but I was right” storyline of Dave Snowden’s longitude video. It’s painful to hear how no one believed Mr. Harrison for more than 20 years and no one believed Dr. Stewart for 25 years. Their stories give me courage to keep fighting for changes that matter to me. If they could fight that long then so can I. Will you fight too?
Have a fantastic weekend and be sure to recharge so you can keep driving change.
BONUS: We think we know more than we do about complex issues. Thanks for the link, Hilbert.
These are the typical questions,…; Who gets the credit? Who will be blamed if it causes problems? Will it shift the power structure, costing jobs? Or will it make some subordinate department more important.”
It’s funny to reread the words because I had a nearly identical conversation just the other day with someone instructing me on why an innovation was not well received. I was struck then and I’m struck again now that the testing of innovations against self-preservation was seen as “just the way we do things around here,” or something beyond inspection. “Nothing to see here!” I guess.
It’s sad to say, but if you’re trying to innovate within (i.e., amongst) a bureaucracy, the cause is lost. You’re living in the Driving People Sea and you’re most likely adrift.
Head toward the Driving Change island if you can because there is hope you can one day prevail if you can carve out and protect some territory amidst the bureaucracy.
Let them ask those questions. Use your policy buffer to protect you. Someday your island of driving change will win.
Back in August I traveled to Hawaii to provide some training sessions on driving change and personal mastery at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility. They recently published a full page article about my visit titled “Key to Change: I ‘get to’ vs I ‘have to.’” Since my mother reads this blog and she loves all article about her darling daughter (that’s me!), I’m socially obligated to post the article. Enjoy the Shipyard Log Oct 2012. The article is on page 7.
To practice a profession one must have acquired mastery of an academic discipline as well as a technique for applying this special knowledge to the problems of everyday life. A profession is therefore intellectual in content, practical in application.” – H. G. Rickover
There isn’t one accepted profession that seems to appropriately “fit” what it means to be someone who is driving change. Whatever the profession is or should be called, I can wholeheartedly agree with Admiral Rickover’s statement that a profession is both intellectual and practical. You need to know something and then you need to do something with that knowledge.
And, if you subscribe to Peter Senge’s description of personal mastery then you won’t read “acquired mastery of an academic discipline” in the narrow sense of “got a degree in X all those years ago,” but rather as a continuous building upon past learning toward greater intellectual mastery which then provides the ideas to carry forward to greater practical mastery in application. Keep learning. Keep doing. You’ll be a professional.
Now, even if other people don’t know what to call you as you drive change, be sure to take the job seriously, and act as a professional anyway. Study. Apply. Study more. Apply more. Keep driving. Keeping winning. If they have to call you something, let them call you great for all you’ve accomplished.
I think about things that other people think are odd. For example, I’ve wondered for years why it is that almost all business books and nearly all consulting pitches assume that the reader or receiver of services is an executive (the .01 to .1% of employees of an organization). That led me to wonder why I, clearly not an executive, was reading all these books or reviewing all these consulting pitches.
Here’s what I’ve come up with: Executives get to okay large book orders or approve massive consulting contracts. Therefore the books and the services go where the money is. And I, the non-executive, was reading all of this stuff because if you want to read about change management you don’t have any other sources to go to other than these executive-centric tomes.
While the monopoly of the executives continues in books and consulting, its strangle hold on the idea marketplace is relaxing. Non-executives are connected via Twitter and LinkedIn and name-your-platform like never before. I don’t need to ask my boss if I may learn from Seth Godin or Daniel Pink or name-your-guy-or-gal today. I can just follow them digitally, let their ideas fill my mind, and (here’s the important part) act on what my new thinking tells me.
In most organizations, I’d wager a guess that most truly meaningful changes begin at a level far below the executives. So, for the other 99.99% or even just the other 99.9% of us that toil away in organizations, there must be something that helps us understand how we can make a meaningful, sustained difference in our organization.
The best thing I’ve found to date (though I’m still diligently looking, and taking suggestions for where to look) is the concept of driving change. Nowhere does driving change presuppose you possess any level of organizationally-offered power. Instead it starts with the premise that you have power inside you to impact those around you, and if you’d only use it, you could make a difference.
That seems so simple. So quick. So it-can’t-possibly-be-enough. Yet, I really think it is.
Richard Feynman didn’t have to be appointed a great teacher. He just was one.
Martin Luther King Jr didn’t work his way up the hierarchy of civil rights leaders. He acted, boldly and in his own way, and people followed.
Heck, one of my heroes, Admiral H. G. Rickover had to be saved by Congress several times from impending forced retirements because the people guarding the ladder in the Navy would rather not have his outcomes (safe, effective nuclear powered vessels) if it meant they didn’t have to be bothered with him. He didn’t let their failure to bestow organizational power stop him from achieving what he believed was right and essential for his country. We remember him as a four-star admiral, but he started driving change long before he wore any stars.
Don’t let business books and consulting sales pitches lull you into thinking that until you’re an executive you can’t make a difference in your organization. The power to lead, drive, and win change already exists inside you. Are you bold enough, brave enough, strong enough to let it out? When (not if) you try, I’m right here with you.
Let’s drive some change together. I bet you’ll be glad you did.
Back in 1982, during his last testimony before Congress as an active-duty naval officer, Admiral H. G. Rickover claimed he coined a term, “Say-Do.” He meant the term to refer to those people who say they are going to do things, receive praise from the people who hear them say they will do things, yet never actually do things. Admiral Rickover claimed he continued to look vainly for those people who actually do what they say.
Those comments lead me to believe that Admiral Rickover would approve of those of us who are driving change (choosing a change for themselves and clearing the way for others to choose the change too).
There is no passivity and no posturing in driving change.
You are either acting to bring your change into the world or you aren’t driving change.
Thank you to all my friends out there driving change.
You balance the world full of “Say-Do” experts and give me hope every day.
Administrators derive status from their organization and tend to identify themselves with it so that criticism of the organization is felt by them to be criticism of the administrator himself. Productive people owe whatever distinction they may have to their own competence and are usually more open-minded about improving their performance.” – H. G. Rickover, then Vice Admiral, USN writing in American Education – A National Failure, 1963
When you’re driving change you’ll want to know whether you’re working with administrators or what Admiral Rickover called “productive people.” Granted, there are shades of each on the line between the two, but to be successful you must learn to tell one from the other.
Here’s a quick way to tell the difference, at least from my experience. An administrator will never use the word “new” as applied to information you have presented; they probably won’t talk much at all. Whether amazed by your findings or not, if they admit you knew something they didn’t then they have failed because your information would imply their organization is not today all that it could be, and if the organization isn’t all that it could be then they are not all that they can be, and their self-talk spiral goes up and up. The way to rewind the spiral is to talk about your change as opportunity to leverage the best of their organization and make it even better. Even in the worse organizations there is a best part so you’re never lying, even when their best is everyone else’s average or worse.
A productive person however will use these words when in conversation with you, and will probably use them often: interesting, curious, challenging (in a positive way), new and different (again in a positive way). Your problem with a productive person is that their curiosity for your information may cause you to run past your conclusions, getting you a few steps beyond the change you’ve thought out. To keep your credibility when working with a productive person, always admit when you don’t know something and always share how far out you’ve taken your idea (e.g., we know what’ll happen in the next three months, but haven’t planned for “what ifs” past that). Always be on the look out for productive people. They are an advantage on your good days and a treasured asset on your bad.
In the end you’ll be driving change with everyone, so talk up those administrators, care for those productive people and drive the change either way.
The first duty of a wise advocate is to convince his opponents that he understands their arguments and sympathizes with their feelings.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Today I disregarded my opponents and spent the day with my allies. For 11 hours we discussed change management, Dave Snowden’s Cynefin Framework and my motivation perspective coordinate system. Plus, we told a lot of great stories about this time and that where we enjoyed ourselves, failed miserably, succeeded triumphantly and learned a lot about driving change in complex organizations.
We rattled off book after book that each of us had read and was encouraging the others to read. I haven’t totaled up all the titles, but I think my reading list is now full for the next several months, if not several years.
Cherish your allies and study your opponents. Both will make you a more wise advocate tomorrow than you are today; and everyone could use more wisdom these days.
I slumped in my chair, closed my eyes and sighed under my breath, “Ugh!”
What else can you say when you watch a truly urgent plea for transformation closely followed by a detailed paper directing the recipients to perform typical incremental improvement behavior?
What can you do when a valiant call for new, purposeful action is weighed down under words urging you to wait until the teleconference, or next meeting, or some later date to report your thoughts (not your actions, your plans, your true passion…nope, just your thoughts)?
All around us, change is accelerating, but our ability to lead change hasn’t kept pace. Managers are trained to make incremental, programmatic improvements. They aren’t trained to lead large-scale change. Kotter International is about leading large-scale change, not just managing it.”
When you know where to look, you’ll start to find too many examples in your daily life where people plea for transformation and demand incremental change.
The church council knows it has an aging population and a negative bank account, but its congregation is happy to wait another month to consider all options before acting. Transformation meets an incremental monster.
The volunteer group’s strategic planning session paints a lofty vision of their impact on their community, then they bicker over how to structure their strategic planning meeting minutes, never starting the strategic change. Transformation eaten by the incremental monster.
The organization that has a true need to transform from one century to the century beyond next, bogs down early in wishes to discuss the group’s thoughts in incremental meetings with elaborate action approval processes (never written down of course). Transformation dead before it even meets the incremental monster.
Perhaps I’m venting to much..what was my point again? Oh, yes.
For someone passionate about driving change, a world in need of transformation but plagued with incremental action can be maddening, but there are at least five ways out of the incremental monster’s lair.
1. Refuse to be incremental. Someone once told me he was fiercely committed to always being rigidly flexible in the service of his goals. Take his advice and be rigidly flexible regarding your transformation. You’ll be driving change: acknowledging the concerns of those you pass, but not stopping to convince them to come with you. You’ll just keep going. Someday they’ll join along. Sure, they’ll make faster progress because you’ve blazed the trail for them to follow, but you’re not in competition with them; you’re in pursuit of your transformation.
2. Offer the transformation option. If you’re not the one in charge (and no matter the organization, you’re rarely the one in charge), try offering transformation to the powers in control. And, offer transformation with your promise to work hard along side them on the transformation. Offer your service to the congregation, to the volunteer board, to the bureaucratic organization. You’ll be putting yourself out there, but it’ll be worth it, even if they don’t accept your offer. Why? Because after you make the suggestion of transformation they can’t honestly say they didn’t know transformation was an option. And if they try to crush you after you willingly offered to be a servant to their transformation then you know exactly the type of people you are working with (and I’d recommend for your sanity you try to work elsewhere). See. Either way you learned something essential to driving your change.
3. Let others choose the transformation for themselves. You’re likely right in the transformation you’re suggesting. Being right doesn’t matter. Unless you truly have the power to compel people’s passions and minds into your service (and I doubt you do even with the best of power structures), if you force them along with you you’re going to kill in them exactly what you need alive to make your transformation successful. When they’re journeying with you, they’ll need to be thinking, breathing, feeling members of your transformation. Indentured servants and beaten serfs rarely produce the genius required to keep a transformation moving.
4. Give them hope in the transformation. People fear the unknown (how cliche’ but true) and they’ll worry the journey to the transformation will be rough. Why not just admit to them it will be? “Yep. This will probably be the hardest thing you ever do. And, because it’s the hardest, it will likely be the most fulfilling.” Pick your point on the horizon, your transformation. Tell them you’re setting your course that way, ready for what the road brings you, confident you’ll get there in due time and you’d love for them to join you. Say that and mean it. Then, set out and see what happens. Give them some hope both for the end and for the journey and you’ll be surprised who joins you.
5. Measure something new. If you work for transformation and all the signs (the metrics, the dollar figures, the graphs, the charts, the meeting and the status symbols) remain the same as the old route, you’re not helping anyone. Keeping the old is the incremental change trap. Break free by admitting up front that you’ll have to leave some of those signs behind. When we travel cross country in the U.S. we can be sure that the sign that says California will shift to one that says Nebraska then Illinois then New York, but all the signs are in English. The words are different, but the language the same. Do the same thing with the numbers, the figures, the praised and rewarded facts. Bring enough of the old, but tailor it first for the new.
Maybe I’m rambling after a long weekend away and a busy day catching up. Maybe I’m making sense. The point of the five steps is to give you confidence that there are some quick, specific ways of acting that will help you in turning a plea for transformation into actual transformation instead of a pit of incremental monster mud.
When I’m sitting around a table after work with my friends sometimes it’s fun to go around the table and tell our “the only one” stories about how one of us has been the only one who’s done something, knows something or has seen something at work. A few of my favorites to tell are:
Years ago a young officer claimed that I was likely the only person to ever bring a purse into the engine room of the USS Asheville (SSN 758). He declared this to me in a rather shocked and bothered tone. (In my defense, a purse seemed a perfectly logical place for me to carry my pen and paper. Am I right ladies?)
You could maybe tell from my first story that I work in a shipyard. Yesterday I painted my nails while standing just inside the turnstiles to that same shipyard. By the end of the day I started to wonder if I may be the only person to have ever stopped there to paint their nails. An entirely non-scientific poll of my friends suggests my assumption may be right. [If you’re wondering what would ever possess me to paint my nails on my way into work, well…I’m very busy at home and I’m nothing if not efficient with my time. My walk to my office is the perfect nail drying time. I can’t let that time go to waste.)
These “only one” stories are fun after hours, but when you’re driving change in your organization you can’t afford for long to be the only one who has done something, knows something or has seen something. Why? Because your change doesn’t depend on whether you can do it, know it or see it.
You have to get others to do it, know it and see it too. To get them there, I bet you’ll need to use stories.
You’ll need to create some “we were all…” stories.
I can’t answer that question in a general sense, but I can point you to some good folks who’ll help you formulate how to tell the right stories. Check out Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick.
Just last week I used the lessons they taught me to transform an executive’s title change from a dull, administrative choice into a story that people have been telling all week. The story I overheard was, “We were all in the meeting and on a card sitting on the table was his title, but his old title was crossed out with thick black marker. Now it says…”
Who’s telling stories about your change?
Don’t be the only one.
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