The failed model of executive-led change

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 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.

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In need of more Velcro

Reading for me is like applying large strips of Velcro to my brain.  With each new thing I read, whether a business book, novel or local newspaper, I now have new information that other information can stick to.  This new information always seems to help me find the patterns I need to drive the changes I want.

When you’re driving change, if you’ve lined your brain in Velcro, you’ll be better equipped to pick up patterns, to see  connections and to catch the facts you need.

Try reading:

  • Anything by Seth Godin, but especially Tribes and Linchpin
  • Anything by Eli Goldratt, but especially The Goal and It’s Not Luck
  • Anything by John Kotter, but especially Leading Change and Sense of Urgency
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Follow your passion

When you’re leading a team, find your passion within the team’s project or goals and make the team’s work essential to you in some way.

Maybe the team’s goal (e.g., expanding housing for the homeless) is your motivation.

Maybe you’re indifferent to the goal (e.g., reducing the number of file cabinets in the department storeroom), but you’re energized by the chance to practice your leadership skills.  After all, who knows how exciting the next project could be!

Maybe all you care about is that the team gives you an opportunity to mentor the next leaders.

Whatever way you spin it, you’ll want your passion fueled by the project.  You’ll need that fuel when you’re drive change.

So, go find your passion in your projects.  Look for those projects you can’t stay away from with the meetings you rush to make and never miss.  Watch for those moments when times flies by and you wish you could keep working.

And, if you look and you just can’t find any passion in the project, then ask yourself: Why am I doing this anyway?  Maybe its time to stop.

There’s lots of things you could be doing with your time.  Why not spend it working on projects that play to your passion.  See Seth Godin’s The Dip for more on this topic.

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Create a bigger [ box ]

Years ago I fled my cubicle.  The work that was in the cubicle was never enough for me.  I wanted to work on the things that were about the work before it got to me or about the work after it left, be that Theory of Constraints for work queuing or manuals for standardizing processes.  Apparently I was working upstream and downstream, and today Seth Godin has explained the benefits of that method in his aptly titled Upstream and Downstream post.

Most of the time, we think of our job as a set of tasks that take place in a —> [box] <—.

It turns out, though, that if we go upstream and alter the stuff that comes to us, it’s a lot easier to do great work. And if we go downstream and teach people how to work with what we created, the final product is better as well. Now, it’s more of a –> [   box   ] <–.

No one is coming along to bump out the walls of your cubicle and put the exciting work into the box that is your job.  If you’re waiting, stop!

Take control of you upstream. Ask for the assignments that you want that you know your boss has and may never give you, or pitch the task that you want to your boss and ask to lead it.

Take control of your downstream.  If you create paperwork that someone else has to use, some document that you pass along to anyone, make it your rule to call them at least once a month (or better yet visit in person if you can) and ask them how well your work is serving their needs.  Don’t give them an elaborate customer satisfaction form.  Start a relationship so whenever they do have a problem they call you right away and whenever you’ve done something truly great for them, maybe they’ll call you too.

Create a bigger [   box   ].  Why not try?

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Keep up the great work

Seth Godin wrote today of Low Esteem and the Factory, of how many companies are still looking for employees they can categorize, command and dominate.  He writes:

If you want to raise your game and build an organization filled with people who will change everything, the first thing to look for is someone who hasn’t been brainwashed into believing that they’re not capable of great work.

I’ve worked with both the categorized, commanded and dominated and with those who believe they are capable of great work.  I’ve found both groups easy to understand and interact with while driving change.

The group that seems to give me the most trouble are those who’ve seen others doing great work, want to do great work themselves, but struggle with the journey to a place of confidence.  They’ll stick their hands up and volunteer for an exciting project, then linger along the edges of the meeting room, not wanting to push to the front too quickly.  They’ll wait weeks to ask a question, I’m assuming for fear of looking foolish for needing to ask.  I think they look foolish for wasting weeks on needless worry; so I tell them not to wait next time and nothing they ask is foolish.

To all of you reading this who are in that journeying middle–and really this goes out to anyone reading this blog–read Linchpin by Seth Godin.  Learn about art, the resistance and why you have an unprecedented opportunity to bring all of yourself to your work, to live your art and to be magnificent.

You can do great work.

You will do great work.

Why not try?

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Godin, Argyris and Underpants Gnomes

When Seth Godin tells you to offer your assumptions…

Instead of arguing for a course of action based on the status quo or your emotional gut, describe the theory of the case.

…he’s outlining the Model II portion of the research and teachings of Chris Argyris.

If you want to improve your change driving skills, studying Arygris is worth your time.  You must practice sharing your case in a way that opens your work up to the critique and participation of others.

When Seth Godin suggests you beware of the missing steps toward success…

PS if one of the steps is, “and then a miracle happens,” you probably need to work on your case a bit.

…I think of the Underpants Gnomes from South Park and their simple three step plan to corporate success.

Now show your work and drive change!

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Link Fuel

Regularly I recharge my change driving batteries by sampling the delightful links my friends send me.

As I prepared for the long holiday weekend–Happy 4th of July by the way!–I thought, “Why not offer up some link fuel for my Engine for Change friends?”  Enjoy!

Charles Green reveals the silly secrets of strategy in You Too Can Be a Strategy Consultant.  Don’t get fooled by a strategy hack again. [Nancy – Thanks for the link.]

Rogue Polymath has been busy clarifying our minds with several Thinking Thursday posts.  Enjoy Murphy’s Law, Inductive and Deductive ReasoningEdward Tufte – Supergraphic and Abilene Paradox.

RSA Animate offers an excellent 10 minute video illustration of Daniel Pink‘s Drive.

If you can’t avoid using PowerPoint slides in your work Seth Godin offers his 200 Slide Solution, Toastmasters International’s magazine introduces us to Pecha Kucha in What is Pecha Kucha? and Captain Joe Bradley would tell you to improve your presentation using an Assertion and Evidence format (see my old professor Michael Alley’s Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides).  If you want to be great at presentations, PowerPoint or not, buy Tufte’s The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within. The booklet is only $7 and reading it will change the way you produce and absorb all PowerPoint presentations.

Well, I feel recharged.  Do you?

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Linchpin Meet-up Complete

Thanks to the ten people who joined me for the first world-wide Linchpin meet-up day.  We had a simple, enjoyable time relaxing over pizza and beverages.  I meant to take photos and forgot.

Now that I’ve got a taste for how easy it is to put a meet-up together, I may just have to make local meet-ups a quarterly affair.  I know some people out there prefer a few minutes of actual conversation intermixed with quality electronic communications.

In this grab bag post I’ll send out my best wishes for my good friends attending the Edward Tufte one day course in Seattle this Tuesday or Wednesday.  I know you’ll have a blast and can’t wait until Thursday when I can hear all about how much you liked the class.  Remember to watch not only the content of the course, but how Tufte delivers the content.  He’s giving you a lesson in teaching that he’s thrown for free.

Never to leave a post without one great link, enjoy this article on leadership from the American Scholar.  I’m finding myself recently drawn to the speeches given to the men and women in our service academies.  Perhaps its the implied purpose of the cadet’s life that makes the speaker want to say something worth remembering.  Whatever it is, we’re all benefiting.

Wishing you a fabulous week of driving change – April

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Quote of the Week: Do the job that’s not getting done

In honor of world-wide Linchpin meet-up day (Monday June 14th), here’s a favorite (of many) Seth Godin quotes from Linchpin:

“Not My Job”

Three words can kill an entire organization.

As the world moves faster and engagement become more fluid, the category of “not my job” keeps getting bigger and bigger…

…The bathroom at New York’s Museum of Natural History has insufficient wastepaper bins, so the one that’s there is always overflowing.  It’s the janitor’s job to empty the can as often as he can, but who has the job of installing a second can?

In a factory, doing a job that’s not yours is dangerous.  Now, if you’re a linchpin, doing a job that’s not getting done is essential. [emphasis mine.]”

Don’t forget to join me at Cloverleaf Tavern and Pizza at 5:30 on Monday for world-wide Linchpin meet-up day.  Not near Bremerton, Washington?  Find a meet-up close to you at Meetup.com.

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When did we decide that?

Seth Godin’s post “Seized of the matter,” referring to how the U.N. Security Council has a method to seize and hold issues that they refuse then to allow the full body to debate, got me thinking about a few of my pet peeve statements that can slow down or stop change.

1. “When did we decide that?”  The implication is that you all agreed that you would all agree before any action was taken.  This is usually used on the most minor of issues that if you would have brought them before the whole group would have been met with the statement, “Why are you wasting our time with this?”  If you can’t win either way, might as well decide and let them ask this question after the change has already flown by in front of them.

2.  “When did you tell me that?” or its worse cousin, “You never told me that.’ which really means “I don’t know if you told me or not, but I know you didn’t make me care enough to listen!”  When dealing with a group change effort, documentation is your friend.  Take notes in meetings and type the notes into minutes.  The minutes will help you and everyone else remember what they’d rather forget.  Send out e-mails after the meetings recapping Agreements or Decision and Remaining Actions.  They still probably won’t listen and they’ll still try to pull “You didn’t make me care enough!” but you’ll have the electronically captured memories on your side.  Slowing down to point them toward the minutes is a lot quicker to recover from than slowing down to have the conversation, “Remember on Tuesday the 12th when we decided…”

3.  “Who told you to do that?”  I’ve already covered that one in a blog post.  Just answer, “I did.” (as diplomatically as you can) and keep on going.

What’s the point of all this?

When you’re dealing with a group change, no matter how much you discuss deciding, document deciding and ask permission people will always ask these three questions, and more.

These stopper questions are just a muddy field in front of your fast car.

Don’t let them drag you into the mud.

Steer clear of the mud and keep driving change.

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