The A to Z of OD: H is for Human

Thanks to OD Practitioner Dorothy Matthew, who challenges organisations to put ‘human beings’ as opposed to ‘human doings’ at the forefront matters… and then make the shift; Human was also suggested by Perry Timms.  H is for Humanising workplaces.

“Are we human, or are we dancer?”

Human is a thought-provoking song by The Killers. In it, frontman Brandon Flowers suggests being human is to have agency.  To be a dancer is to be a puppet, controlled by others.  This is a song about emancipation from those who would seek to control us.  In a work context, this is the organisation for whom we work.  It strikes me too many organisations still choose to do dumb things to people: by over-rationalising business processes, over-engineering restrictive policies and infantilising their people.

For me, OD is about humanising workplaces.  Technology, robots – thus far the antithesis of humanity – were supposed to give us humans more leisure time.  Yet we are working more and harder than ever.  We haven’t managed to systematically humanise workplaces yet.  Perhaps what we choose to delegate to the robots will enable us to humanise the work we keep for ourselves?  Perhaps we can humanise how we choose to lead the robots?

“Take a look in the mirror and what do you see?  Do you see it clearer or are you deceived?”

Human is a thought-provoking song by Rag ‘n’ Bone Man.  The lyric is about taking responsibility for yourself and not trying to pass blame onto other people.

I use psychometrics in my OD practice to help people understand themselves and others better, so we can all play to our strengths and achieve more together by choosing to take responsibility for furthering the purpose of the organisations where we work.

We can’t go through life blaming others and we also can’t go through life using the excuse “I’m only human”.  Give yourself permission to make mistakes AND choose to take responsibility for your own behaviour.

Humanising workplaces

The results we get when know the dynamic between people and, in the future, know the dynamic between the humans and the robots – the ‘aha!’ moment I look for when working with my clients – is palpable.  It manifests as more collaboration, more empathy, more generative work practices, more humanised workplaces.  It takes time.  There is no magic potion.  There are no superheroes.  Just humans choosing to make a difference.  Practising some fundamental principles of human processes and relationships – the doings and the beings – of a humanised organisation.

American entrepreneur Jim Rohn once said, “Success is neither magical nor mysterious.  Success is the natural consequence of applying the basic fundamentals.”  Never truer than when choosing to be human, never truer than when humanising organisations.

OD Thought Leader: Jerry B. Harvey

On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas the family is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene (53 miles north) for dinner. The wife says, “Sounds like a great idea.” The husband, despite having reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group and says, “Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go.” The mother-in-law then says, “Of course I want to go. I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”

The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted.

One of them dishonestly says, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” The mother-in-law says that she would rather have stayed home but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, “I wasn’t delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went to satisfy the rest of you.” The wife says, “I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat like that.” The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.

The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon.

We fail to manage agreement and end up doing things nobody wants to do.  In the original anecdote above where Jerry Harvey established the Abilene Paradox, this happened at the expense of choosing to #JustBe.  Why are we programmed to find stuff to Just Do, when we often find our greatest breakthroughs come from choosing to #JustBe?

The paradoxical nature of Change: Oh, Sweet Irony!

Recommended reading: Jerry B. Harvey (1988) The Abilene Paradox and Meditations on Management, New York, Wiley.

Next time: I is for the Ice Cube theory of change

The A to Z of OD: E is for Energy – Managing Energy

Suggested by Perry Timms, Simon Daisley and – notably – Dorothy Matthew, who suggested to me that time management is outdated, and the focus today needs to be on managing energy as opposed to time, and Russell Harvey, who reminded me leading change means checking in with others to see how they are managing their energy for change.

Managing time is out

I remember attending a training course on time management when I first started out in my career.  We were encouraged to schedule important tasks in our diaries and treat them as of similar importance to meetings, for example.  At the end of the course, the delegates paired up to check-in and support each other with our agreed actions.  I can’t remember the name of the chap I paired with.  Let’s call him Dave.  So, a couple of weeks later, I dutifully phoned Dave…

“Hi Dave, it’s Jez.  How are you getting on with managing your diary?” I asked, politely.

“I’m far too busy to start with any of that crap!” he retorted, paradoxically.

Perhaps even then, the concept of time management was outdated.  Dave was living on adrenaline, managing all the tasks he needed to, performing adequately, perhaps, surviving, just.  But for how long is such an approach sustainable?

Managing energy is in

Fast forward a couple of decades or so and I now work with groups of senior leaders who are coping with gnarly transformational changes in their organisations.  My work is concerned with how to lead change so that it sustains.  I’m struck that today’s rapidly changing world gives rise to rapidly changing pressures on leaders.

I’ve said before that leading change starts on the inside.  We all react to change when it happens to us from the outside-in.  Learning to recognise our own emotional response means we can make more active choices in how to respond, rather than react.  How we can maintain our own energy for change, so we can help others cope with it too?  How we can internalise the change, so we work with it from the inside-out?  This, I believe, makes us better change leaders.

The way we are working is not working

I am reminded of the words that describe working in different zones as articulated by Tony Schwartz in The Way We work Isn’t Working.  Schwartz suggests we tend to operate in one of four zones:

  • Performance Zone, when our energy and activity are high, and we feel optimistic
  • Survival Zone, when our energy and activity are high, but we are running around doing so much. In this Zone, our emotional state is negative, we become pessimistic about work, we retreat into silos, protecting ourselves from the outside world.  We are just about surviving
  • Burnout Zone, when our energy dips catastrophically and it all becomes too much
  • Renewal Zone, when we find time to recover from the pressures of work, energy remains low (we are recovering after all), however we regain our optimism and become ready to move back to the Performance Zone.

So, what?

When the pace of work and change becomes too much, our performance slips, we can find ourselves operating in the Survival Zone.  We might find ourselves feeling lonely or moody, we may become narcissistic and unpredictable.  We might also become apathetic, appearing to others as stubborn or intense.  These are the signs we are moving towards the Burnout Zone.

The trick is to find ways to move freely between the Performance Zone and the Renewal Zone, so that we remain optimistic and enthusiastic, while slowing our energy and activity to recover, and then using our renewed energy to keep our performance high.

And so, the question becomes: what can you do to maintain your energy for change?  To find time in your routine to recover from the pressures of work – where the pace of change is ever-increasing – and keep your performance high?

Three tips to maintain your energy for change

  1. Find your own words to describe the four Zones. Then, notice when you are feeling that way, it is probably an indication you are already in that Zone, or moving towards it
  2. Work out what renews your energy – this might be mindful meditation, sport or exercise, social activities, hobbies or clubs. At work, it might simply be finding time to leave your desk and go for a walk or have your lunch with others away from the office.  It might be finding time to #JustBe.  Outside of work it might be reading, listening to or playing music, painting or simply have a long soak in a hot bath.  This tip helps you discover your own Renewal Zone.
  3. Mindfully choose to spend time in your Renewal Zone. Schedule it in your diary if needs be.  Dave, are you listening?  I was listening, I have time blocked out in my diary entitled #JustBe.

You might find you start to spot the signs of the Survival Zone or Burnout Zone in others.  If so, you might want to encourage them to think about their own Renewal Zone.  You may also find you can spot the signs of the Performance Zone or the Renewal Zone in others and choose to appreciate them, to celebrate their achievement!

OD Thought Leader: Chester Elton, “The Apostle of Appreciation” (1958 – )

Chester Elton is one of the masters of employee engagement.

Elton and his co-author, Adrian Gostick, conducted research with 200,000 managers and literally millions of workers to evidence the thinking behind their ‘Carrot Principle’.  The research found that feeling appreciated is one of the highest ranked (top three, worldwide) workers’ motivations.

They propose, “a carrot is something used to inspire and motivate an employee. It’s something to be desired… Simply put, when employees know that their strengths and potential will be praised and recognised, they are significantly more likely to produce value.”

Their research has spawned an industry of formal employee recognition schemes. But it is the informal, cultural aspects that often have the most impact. A carrot does not need to be monetary. Simply being thanked or publicly recognised is enough for many.

If I may borrow from another great thought leader, Nancy Kline, “people do their best thinking in the presence of Appreciation.” I’d suggest ‘their best thinking’ translates readily into ‘their best work’. And so, managers showing their honest appreciation improves organisational performance.

Creating a climate of appreciation enables organisations to sustain what Elton calls a ‘Carrot Culture’.

And if, as I believe, Engagement is one of the engines of organisational effectiveness, this can only help to humanise the workplace in a systemic way. And that, dear readers, is what OD is all about.

Recommended reading: Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton (2009): The Carrot Principle, London, Simon and Schuster

Next time: F is for Facilitation

The A to Z of OD (Part III conclusion): C is for Change

Today, we finalise the letter C in our A to Z of OD.  We have seen C is for Culture, and C is for Creating the right Climate for Culture to Flourish.  Today, we consider the big one.  Today, we consider Change itself.  It is a huge topic and I have considered it from the perspective of OD as a humanistic, systemic approach to achieving sustainable change.

This post was in part inspired by my former colleague Francis Lake.  Francis is Head of OD at Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banking Group; he reminded me of the importance of the emotional response to change and the need to think long-term when planning change.

C is for Change

It strikes me, from my experience of facilitating transformational change in many different organisations, that change often appears to be driven from the ‘outside-in’.  Typically, this is in response to the external environment, economic considerations or technological developments.  This is clearly rational; however, it can lead to short-term changes being implemented that do not last long.

More sustainable, long-term change requires changing from the ‘inside-out’.  This requires consideration of the whole organisational system.  It starts by looking internally at how different parts of the organisation are aligned to meet its primary purpose (see the A to Z of OD Part I) against those external factors, i.e. understanding that the whole system includes the external stakeholders and operating environment.

Motivation

Earlier in Part III of the A to Z of OD, we explored culture and the importance of creating the right climate for culture to flourish.  There are three core factors that combine to motivate employees to take on change: feeling safe (adequate reward and psychological safety), social factors (working relationships and recognition) and self-actualising factors (autonomy and personal development).

As I outlined in The A to Z of OD: C is for Culture, managers’ and leaders’ behaviours – such as more participative management styles, colleague engagement, recognition and rewards and encouraging personal development – both enact and symbolise the culture by stimulating motivation so that organisations access discretionary effort from their workforce.

Past-Present-Future

That notwithstanding, people fear change.  They are apt at romantically reconstructing the past through rose-tinted spectacles, editing it to create myths of a glorious bygone age.  This is organisational nostalgia.

Organisational nostalgia is often at odds with the case for change, which is expressed optimistically, yet rationally, in formal business cases and enacted through tightly-controlled project disciplines.  This future-oriented approach explicitly hides emotions.  People get the message that emotions are bad; nostalgia is bad.  And like some movie of a dystopian future where the (emotional) humans battle against the (rational) machines, “Resistance is Futile!”

You can see how this might represent a major (psychological) problem.

By recognising both these opposing positions, I believe OD must build a case for change by taking a different perspective; revealing rather than denying the nostalgics’ stories from the emotional past, the reality of the present and the optimistic journey to the future.  This requires a process-centred approach to change, rather than a destination-focused project plan.

Outside-in vs inside-out

OD can:

  • Help individuals recognise and challenge their natural responses to change
  • Adopt a process-centred approach to change
  • Select a change strategy to promote motivation rather than tackle resistance
  • Tap into emotional nostalgia to better understand the past and how the organisation got to where it is today before visioning the future and how to get there.

This, I believe, is how long-term, sustainable change is delivered.

OD Thought Leader: Stephen R. Covey (1932 – 2012)

Based on his PhD research into world religions and other codes of practice throughout human history, Covey synthesised a list of seven habits that encourage people to live principled lives, and to choose to change from the inside-out rather than decide to change purely as a response to external influences.

The first three habits encourage people to move from being dependent to being independent: (1) be proactive, (2) begin with the end in mind and (3) put first things first.  The skills that underpin these three habits are often described in organisations as positive behaviours and offered as personal development interventions, i.e. (1) taking accountability, (2) aligning activity to an overall mission and (3) prioritising important work over work that is simply urgent.

The next three habits are about moving from independence to interdependence: (4) think ‘win-win’, (5) seek first to understand, then to be understood and (6) syergize.  These are often offered in OD as team development, e.g. (4) collaborative working, (5) coaching skills and (6) teamworking so that more can be achieved than working alone.

Habit 7, Sharpen the Saw, aims to promote the concept of continuous learning.  In OD, this aligns to the concept of the Learning Organisation.

Whilst written from the perspective of personal development, there is much to learn in Seven Habits from an organisation development perspective.  I particularly like the way Covey draws from fundamental principles of what is to be human as taught be elders throughout history, across the world, and makes it relevant to today’s organisational context.

Recommended reading: Covey, S. (2004). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. London, Simon & Schuster.

Next time: D is for Design

The A to Z of OD (Part III continued): C is for Climate

Earlier in the week, I covered C is for Culture.  Continuing the letter C, this beautiful blog post about organisational climate is contributed by freelance OD practitioner Lucy ThompsonLucy is a creative OD Specialist, Changemaker and Coach.  She typically leads the people aspects on major transformational change programmes, focusing on delivering organisational effectiveness and team performance.

Creating the right Climate for Culture to Flourish

I was reminded today of the simplicity of a flower in nature – when you see a flower growing beautifully and thriving, the last thing you do is pick it.  You leave it to be nurtured by nature-  safe in the knowledge that this flower had found its place in the world and the climate it was growing in was enabling it to be the best version of itself it can be.

A climate in an organisation is often referred to as its culture.  You only need Google ‘culture’ and ‘organisation’ to find a raft of insight, models and diagnostics that can help put labels on what is happening at any one time in the organisation and its system.

Many an OD practitioner will tell you that culture is a direct descendant of the team at the top.  Leadership shapes culture.  It’s the way leaders walk, the way they talk, the messages they send and the way they bounce back when things might not have gone as planned. 

Creating high performing leadership teams

Taking this a step further, the leaders in an organisation are a team in their own right – they might be members of several teams but their ‘first’ team is their peer group and the purpose of their roles is to work together to steer their ship to success (whatever that might look like for them).  Therefore, if this team shapes culture, then creating high performing teams must start with the top team.  This creates the right climate for OD – simple enough? Yet why do many organisations struggle with this concept?

Patrick Lencioni is a true hero of mine.  He really puts out in to the ether a simple construct of a high performing team and its characteristics.  No long-complicated words or theory, no model that requires you to follow a tube map of arrows to understand the end goal.  Quite simply the five behaviours of a cohesive team are Trust, Conflict, Commitment, Accountability and Results – simple when you know how, right?

 For OD to flourish in organisations, the culture needs to be right: it needs to enable OD practitioners and their practice to be the very best version they can be, and this means the work starts at the top.  Enabling the cohesive team can be the gamechanger for the success of organisation development and its interventions.

Next time: C is for Change

The A to Z of OD (Part III): Cis for Culture; C is for Change

This is the third part in a series of articles that will set out the A to Z of organisation development: the principles and practices, the tools and techniques and the past and present thought leaders that have shaped the field.

In fact, this part is itself in three parts.  Today, I’ll cover Culture.  The second part to follow is a beautiful blog post by freelance OD practitioner Lucy Thompson, who will reflect on creating the right climate for culture to flourish.  Finally, later in the week, I’ll turn to change, which was in part inspired by my former colleague Francis Lake.  Francis is Head of OD at Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banking Group; he reminded me of the importance of the emotional response to change and the need to think long-term when planning change.

Many other people have commented via LinkedIn or by contacting me directly on what they would like to see included in the A to Z of OD.  Big thanks to all – just like Lucy and Francis today, you’ll get a namecheck when your ideas come up in the alphabet!  And if you want to guest blog a topic or thought leader, then let me know.  You’re more than welcome to get involved in the conversation.

C is for Culture

“Is this the real life; is this just fantasy?” so a certain Mr Mercury asked the world in 1975.  At some point in the Eighties, organisations started asking themselves the same question about their own existence, their own cultures.  Academics argued that organisations could have their own distinct cultures, their own shared values, beliefs and norms, and that there would be competitive advantage from aligning these with the needs of their stakeholders.  What followed is a global change consulting industry now worth in the region on US$250bn per annum.

A fair chunk of the consulting industry is about changing organisational culture.  I shouldn’t really complain as I am a very small part of this industry myself. Changing the culture is only possible if culture is real, or in other words that you believe the way people live, work, interact with each other and come together to achieve something jointly creates and re-creates the “ever-changing world in which we’re living” (McCartney… apologies, I seem to be stuck in some sort of 70s pop music frame today).

If we believe that is the case, then culture is real and if it is real, it can be managed.

How do you change culture?

Like any other change, a common approach to managing culture is to diagnose the current state (using tools such as the Culture Web), envisage a desired state and plan to move from the current reality to the new, future reality.  Much of a culture change plan tends to surround influencing the role of leaders to develop the culture through symbolic means, most notably through their behaviours (see: B is for Behaviours).

And so, many OD practitioners encourage organisations to set standards of behaviours through scripting them (“this is what we are looking for”; “this is what we are not looking for”; that sort of thing) and embedding them into individual objective setting, performance review and personal development planning.  Managers’ and leaders’ behaviours – such as more participative management styles, colleague engagement, recognition and rewards and encouraging personal development – both enact and symbolise the culture.

This approach has become pervasive across all sectors.  It uses culture management as a tool to advance organisational effectiveness, to stimulate motivation and to create linkages between the organisation and the employee – a sense of belonging, often referred to as a sense of family.

And when used purposively, it seems to work; it benefits both the employee and the organisation; and hence the customer and other stakeholders; and hence the primary purpose of the organisation.

What could go wrong?

If culture can be managed, it can be manipulated too.  I’m not sure organisations are like families. Organisations still tend to favour tasks over relationships, they still discourage emotional expression.  And membership of organisations is less permanent than in real families, particularly during periods of organisational change.  Power and leadership differ significantly, and family members are less likely to mistrust each other.  Also, families are predicated on Parent/Child relationships.  Many organisations work like that too, whereas the culture we seek in organisations is Adult.  Oftentimes, ‘Family’ is a poor metaphor for the organisational culture we seek.

To make things worse, employees who believe in the team-family metaphor can become colonised by their organisations.  The very same organisations who may then have to announce redundancy programmes in pursuit of benefiting one stakeholder group (shareholders/governors) over another (employees).

In the face of these conflicting messages, employees become ambivalent: on the one hand believing the organisation is adding value to their lives beyond their salary, whilst harbouring fantasies of autonomy and other forms of escape from the psychic prison in which they have become trapped. This manifests as worsening performance, lower motivation, and a desire for Work-Life Balance.  Work-Life Balance has become a socially acceptable form of dissent.  Organisations that espouse Work-Life balance can inadvertently make employees anxious.  I suspect Work-Life Integration is the antidote to anxiety.

The only way to avoid this risk is to ensure the espoused culture is real, which means it must be lived day-to-day.  You must favour relationships as well as tasks, encourage emotional expression, flatten power hierarchies to become more democratic, build trust through Adult relationships and encourage Work-Life integration.  This creates the right climate for culture to flourish.

Next time: C is for Creating the right Climate for Culture to Flourish

Tips to maintain your energy for change

I had the very great pleasure of working with a large group of CFOs this week, who are coping with some gnarly transformational changes in their organisations.  We were looking at how to lead change so that it sustains.  We were looking for tips to maintain your energy for change.

In one session, we considered how people move through the change curve – from everything being okay, through denial once a major change is announced, into a confused state as we work through what the change means for us and finally towards renewal.  This follows Claes Janssen’s simplified change (curve) model – the Four Rooms of Change – Contentment, Denial, Confusion, Renewal.

The four rooms of change

I invited the group to come up with their own words to define each of these ‘Rooms’ in which we live; each of these four states of mind.  States of mind that everyone goes through when working through change.  Here’s some of their thinking:

  • Contentment – confident, creative, cerebral, fun, sociable
  • Denial – stubborn, apathetic, intense
  • Confusion – unpredictable, lonely, narcissistic, moody
  • Renewal – individual, free-spirited, kind, enthusiastic, spiritual, rational

It strikes me that leading change starts on the inside.  We all react to change when it happens to us from the outside-in.  Learning to recognise our own emotional response means we can make more active choices in how to respond, rather than react.  How we can maintain our own energy for change, so we can help others cope with it too.  How we can internalise the change, so we work with it from the inside-out.  This, I believe, makes us better change leaders.

The way we are working is not working

It also reminds us of the words that describe working in different zones we operate in as described by Tony Schwartz in The Way We work Isn’t Working.  Schwartz suggests we work in one of four zones:

  • The Performance Zone, when our energy and activity is high, and we feel optimistic
  • The Survival Zone, when our energy and activity are high, but we are running around doing so much. In this Zone, our emotional state is negative, we become pessimistic about work, we retreat into silos, protecting ourselves from the outside world.  We are just about surviving
  • The Burnout Zone, when our energy drops too and it all becomes too much
  • The Recovery[1] Zone, when we find time to recover from the pressures of work, energy remains low (we are recovering after all), however we regain our optimism, and become ready to move back to the Performance Zone.

So, what?

I suspect these two models are saying very similar things.  Here they are overlaid onto one another:

When the pace of work and change becomes too much, our performance slips, we can find ourselves operating in the Survival Zone.  This is like the Room of Confusion, we might find ourselves feeling lonely or moody.  We may become narcissistic and unpredictable.  We might also stumble through the doorway to Room of Denial and become apathetic, appearing to others as stubborn or intense.  These are the signs we are moving towards the Burnout Zone.

The trick is to find ways to move freely between the Performance Zone and the Recovery Zone, so that we remain optimistic and enthusiastic, whilst slowing our energy and activity to recover, and then using our renewed energy to keep our performance high.

And so, the question becomes: what can you do to maintain your energy for change?  To find time in your routine to recover from the pressures of work – where the pace of change is ever-increasing – and keep your performance high?

Three tips to maintain your energy for change:

  1. Find your own words to describe the four Rooms or Zones. Then, notice when you are feeling that way, it is probably an indication you are already in that Zone, or moving towards it
  2. Work out what renews your energy – this might be mindful meditation, sport or exercise, social activities, hobbies or clubs. At work, it might simply be finding time to leave your desk and go for a walk or have your lunch with others away from the office.  It might be finding time to #JustBe.  Outside of work it might be reading, listening to or playing music, painting or simply have a long soak in a hot bath.  This tip helps you discover your own Recovery Zone.
  3. Mindfully choose to spend time in your Recovery Zone. Schedule it in your diary if needs be.  For example, I have time blocked out in my diary entitled #JustBe.

You might find you start to spot the signs of the Survival Zone or Burnout Zone in others.  If so, you might want to encourage them to think about their own Recovery Zone.  You should also find you can spot the signs of the Performance Zone or the Recovery Zone in others and choose to celebrate their achievement!

 

Jeremy J Lewis

Committed to making a difference in leading sustainable change

[1] Schwartz calls it the Renewal Zone.  I have changed the name so that it does not become confusing when comparing with the Four Rooms of Change model

Past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance… but it is a good place to start

We are told that past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance, especially when making personal financial investments.  That’s why, in organisations, we write business cases to prove to ourselves we will get a return on investment.  How does this apply to transformational change, when it’s not just finances, but relationships between people that need to change?  We are told that past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance… but it is a good place to start.

 Past – Present – Future … where do you tend to start?

“I want to change the culture,” is something I hear a lot from potential clients.  They have an idea of what is NOT working and a vague notion that “empowerment”, more accountability” or “better collaboration” are the ways to change things.  They then immediately set about defining what the future will look like and writing their business case.  If this sounds familiar, chances are you are already on the path to failure.  That is because you have over-rationalised it and are trying to make a purely financial case for investment.

 The Future is unwritten

I’m not going to bore you with facts and figures about the failure of change programmes.  You’ll know yourself that organisations often choose to invest in tangible things that can be measured in financial terms.  Thing like restructuring, new systems and business processes.  They tend to spend less effort investing in building truly collaborative way of working, innovating and problem-solving.  Because these are hard to do.   Also, writing business cases forces you down that path.  It is often a logical place to start, but it is not the whole story.

 Let the Future remain unwritten for a little longer

In my experience, organisations that over rely on these rational aspects of change tend to achieve limited success, smaller business benefits and alienate their people.  Those organisations that consider the softer, relationship-orientated, people aspects of change achieve better results.  Sometimes.  A major issue, even when culture is properly considered, is that those seeking the change only look forwards to envision a brighter future.

 Opportunities lie in the Past as well as the Future

This is, I fear, only half the story.  By looking at how your organisation got to where it is today, you will understand what aspects of your current culture are already working well and need preserving.  Reflect on the journey taken to get to where you are today, the successes, the failures, what has been learned (and what has not).  This will give you a better understanding of what makes your organisation tick, and what might be holding it back.

 Now is all there is

By achieving a deeper understanding of the Past, you allow yourself, collectively with your people, to let it go.  You will become more intently focused on the Present.  I believe the Present is really all that truly exists.  Looking to the Past helps us understand the Present.  Looking to the future tries to hi-Jack the Present and force it into something it is not ready to be. 

 Be right here, right now with your people and allow your Future Intention to emerge collectively from collaborative sense-making and reflecting on learnings from the Past.  Pay attention to the Present to make your Future Intention a reality.  There are a few simple, practical techniques and ways of working that can be applied every day to do this.  The result is transformational.  The result is the culture change you are seeking.

 Jeremy J Lewis, committed to making a difference in embedding sustainable change

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Eco-friendly consulting?

First published on LinkedIn, December 14, 2016

According to recycling.org.uk, being eco-friendly can be confusing and it can be difficult to know whether you’re doing it right.  It suggests you improve your recycling efforts by learning which type of collection is best and why different areas recycle and collect in different ways.

Is consulting like recycling?

Consulting can be confusing and it can be difficult to know whether you’re getting good advice.  You can improve your use of consultants by learning which type of consulting is best for you and why different firms deliver their services in different ways.

Expert, pair of hands or collaborative?

For example, do you want to hire an expert because you do not have the skills yourself?  Might work in the short-term, but how is this going to build capability to solve similar issues in the future?  Or perhaps you’re just short of a pair of hands to deliver a change programme.  Arguably, this is not consulting at all, more like hiring an expensive interim manager and again, once they leave, who will pick up the reins?

And then there is true collaborative consulting, where a whole-system and people-centred approach is taken to jointly understanding your issues, shaping and delivering solutions together and building your capability to solve similar problems for yourself in the future.  This requires consistently applying fundamental, robust principles and practices to achieve sustainable change.  You can think of this as Eco-friendly consulting because it makes best use of what you already have.  It does this by following that maxim of managing waste: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Reduce your use of consultants that use management fads

Wherever you look, there are fads: celebrities waxing on about the latest crash diet, ‘experts’ explaining how to use live snails or bird poo for skincare, and ‘tweet mirrors’ in the clothing section of department stores to name a few recent ones I’ve spotted.

The world of management and change can also sometimes appear full of fads: total quality management, lean thinking, six sigma, I could go on and on.

You can even have a go at inventing our own management fad: pick three numbers from 1-10 and have a go, for instance 3-6-9 will generate ‘Authentic Customer-focused Partnering’, doesn’t that sound good?

Management fad generator

Extract from the Management Fad Generator, courtesy of Sheffield Business School 

Add a few more words of your own and generate your very own management fad!

How do you know which of the ‘latest thinking’ is real and grounded in robust change theory and which are just fads that have been hijacked by firms looking to get hold of your money, with no real insight into the processes of sustainable change?

Thankfully for every fad, there is an antidote: perhaps listen to a dietician rather than a celebrity for slimming advice, try a value and common sense product for skincare such as NO AD (a company that does not advertise and has no brand and no superfluous packaging and hence is half the price of other ‘brands’, and wins awards for best sun care products), or even shop at Springfield’s traditional department store Costington’s, whose slogan is “100 years without a slogan!”  Okay that last one is from the Simpsons, but you get my point.

Ironically (nay, satirically) Costington’s does indicate that becoming fad-free can itself become a gimmick.

Reuse old theories that work

I believe deeply in tried and trusted processes of change; I believe there are three things you need to do well to effect change: (1) be clear on what needs to change; (2) invest in the support people need to make the change; (3) provide (positive) consequences for those who embrace the change and (negative) consequences for those who resist it.  Consistently applying this theory will save you time and money, and build a reliable approach you can reuse again and again.

Recycle those theories into practice

“Nothing is so practical as a good theory”, as one sage once said (it was Kurt Lewin, btw, in 1941).   And he was right.  Re-badging old theory as new techniques might even be desirable, modernizing ideas that work in today’s reality.  A bit like upcycling, really.  However, I’d recommend you check the theory that underpins your consultant’s techniques is robust, tested in the real world and not just another management fad, otherwise you might just be buying cheap tat that will fall apart when you try to put it to good use.

Jeremy J Lewis

#eco-friendly consulting from @growthepig

How effective is your organisation at making change stick?

First published on LinkedIn September 28, 2016

People often think transformational change is all about aligning your organisational structure with your strategy and improving the efficiency of your business processes.

They are partly right.

Your organisation is a system with three basic levers – strategy, business process and people.  Transformational change most commonly addresses the issue of aligning strategy to business processes through restructuring.  But unless you also engage your people in your strategy and nurture the right team culture to deliver it, your organisation will look good on paper, but will fail to live up to your expectations.

The role of leaders in making change stick

There is another lever that determines your overall chances of success, and that is your leadership capability to hold these disparate yet connected elements of the organisation in alignment.

The problem with many transformations is that they overplay the rational and structured elements of that system (strategy, organisation and business process), underplay the emotional connections (people, engagement and team culture), and often do not assess leadership capability at all.

So, how effective is your approach at making transformational change stick?  How have you engaged your people in the new strategy and nurtured the right team culture to deliver it?  And how as leaders will you hold it all together?

Take part in my research project

I am undertaking some research into the factors that make organisational change stick, which considers this systems-thinking view and other factors that promote or inhibit change.  I’d be very grateful for your opinion.  The survey will only take a few minutes.

You can take the survey here

Please share with your network

Many thanks

Jeremy J Lewis
@growthepig

We need a changeforce, not a workforce!

First posted on LinkedIn June 20, 2016

Let’s face it, as far as the Knowledge Economy goes, the concept of a traditional workforce is dead and buried.

What is a workforce anyway?  A force that does work, perhaps?  What work?  Why that sort of work?  How does it do the work? Where and when does it do the work?

Today’s knowledge economy reality
Traditional Workforce rules of engagement                Today’s Knowledge Economy reality
What A manager tells you what to do A leader sets direction and expects you to get on with it
Why You do it for pay, recognition and the social aspects of going to work You do it because it aligns to your own vision of what you want to achieve as well as the organisation you work for
How You get some training in what to do You get some development in how to take accountability for delivering the organisation’s purpose
Where In a workplace such as a factory or office Anywhere you can get Wi-Fi or 3G
When ‘Nine to five’ Anytime that suits

 

Clearly some aspects of today’s reality can lead to organisations taking the proverbial ****, such as expecting people to be always available and willing and able to turn things around in the hours of darkness between working days.  That said, the new reality enables personal agency and demands people take accountability for delivery, and when the freedoms of technology are used judiciously, this can help with choice and work life balance.

One thing’s for certain, change is accelerating at an incredible pace.  Politically (Irreversible Public Sector cuts, coalition governments, referenda requiring us to take accountability to determine our own futures), economically (1 in 7 are now self-employed), Sociologically (Big Society) as well as technologically.

Perhaps the new normal requires a new approach to the idea of a workforce?  Perhaps organisations need a changeforce, rather than a workforce?

A force for change

A changeforce still needs direction from a leader to set the course, but they would know how to go about delivering that course because they have been raised on dealing with and leading change, they do it because leading change aligns to their personal life choices, and they definitely do it any time, any place, anywhere, because they are truly ‘always on’.  The average Smartphone user already checks their device 150 times a day (source: Vodafone).

I’m reminded of a military analogy – the armed forces spend much of their training developing the skills the troops need to do their jobs (i.e. the ‘hows’).  In ‘theatre’, when a commanding officer instructs the troops what is to be done, (s)he does not waste time telling them how to do it.  They already know.  Rather, the ‘what’ direction is interpreted by the troops on the ground into ‘how’ to get on with it by drawing on their trained-in skills.

A changeforce should therefore spend most of their developmental time learning how to be a force for change.  This is NOT learning project management skills, but rather learning how they will go about:

  • Communicating the change vision with clarity
  • Engaging others in change
  • Facilitating organisational learning
  • Assessing organisational readiness for change
  • Realising the benefits of change.

So I’m curious; how’s your changeforce development shaping up?

 

Jeremy J Lewis

Committed to making a difference in organisation effectiveness and sustainable change