Book Review-Managing at the Speed of Change: How Resilient Managers Succeed and Prosper Where Others Fail

It’s the early 1990s, and corporate cultures, and learning how to cope with increasing degrees of change, are becoming a thing. That’s when Managing at the Speed of Change: How Resilient Managers Succeed and Prosper Where Others Fail was first released. It’s a window in time to the leading edge of the change that we’re all now fully immersed in. Daryl Conner had been consulting and studying organizations and change for a few decades when the book came out, and he recorded his observations about how organizations change – and more importantly what derailed those changes.

Doing the Same Things

The premise then and now is that the same techniques we’ve used in the past to manage complexity and change no longer work. The explosion of media, communications, and virtual connectivity fundamentally rewrites the landscape of our human condition. Because of that, the typical approaches to command and control just don’t work any longer. (See Reinventing Organizations for another view about how organizations need to evolve to accommodate the changes we’re seeing in the world.)

The idea that we can, from on high, control things in the increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world we find ourselves in is ludicrous. (See Stealing Fire for more on VUCA.) The Soviet Union had fallen, because the central planning model of Lenin’s Marxist beliefs just couldn’t compete with the chaotic power of a free market system. While everyone likes the idea of control, we’re finding it increasingly harder to do. (See Compelled to Control for more on our need to control.)

Future Shock

We’ve entered into a time when we’re experiencing future shock. The changes are happening around us at a rate greater than our capacity to cope, and this is causing dysfunctional behaviors. Like a deer stuck in the headlights of an oncoming car, we’re frozen or worse, and with the current rate of change, there seems to be few or no recovery options. We get up every day only to be knocked down by a seemingly unrelenting tsunami of change.

This is particularly true as we continue to face the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 that it causes. We’re adapting to new routines, new rules, and new approaches nearly daily. The weaknesses in our supply chain became apparent as we ran out of toilet paper, masks, and hair coloring. (See Antifragile and The Black Swan for more about how our tendency to optimize has made our supply chains more fragile than ever before.)

Dysfunctional Behavior

When Conner first wrote the book, he was concerned about the dysfunctional behavior he was seeing because of the future shock he believed we were experiencing as a society. The LA Riots were around this same time, and though he didn’t mention them by name, it’s clear that the level of civil unrest weighed heavily on his mind as he sought to reconcile the kinds of societal changes he was seeing in the face of constant change.

Understanding dysfunctional behavior isn’t easy. In Personality Types, the Enneagram model is explained – including the capacity for people to have both functional and dysfunctional behaviors within their primary operating models. The degree of change – and therefore the degree of future shock – caused Conner to speculate about the dysfunctional behaviors at a societal level.

I cannot imagine the vehemence of his words if they were written today, as we’ve seen so many dysfunctional behaviors that it makes the challenges of 30 years ago seem pale in comparison. We’ve seen riots and unrest on top of individuals attacking others for whether they are or aren’t wearing their masks.

Resilience

Like Pandora stuck in the box with all the horrors of the world, we find hope through the development of resilience in people. We find that, in these times – like those after the 9-11 attacks – people are coming together. So, while there is unrest there are also random acts of kindness as neighbors help other neighbors. Conner explains that resilience is “the capacity to absorb high levels of change while displaying minimal dysfunctional behavior.” Not only do some people absorb high levels of change and display minimal dysfunctional behavior, they also actively mitigate the dysfunctional behaviors by doing acts that are designed to reduce the impact.

Reactions to Change

The way that people respond to change is, in some sense, predictable. At another level, it’s largely unpredictable. If the change is perceived negatively, then the person will go through the stages of grief as described by Kubler-Ross in On Death and Dying. If the change is perceived positively, Conner asserts that there’s a different sequence of emotions: uninformed optimism, informed pessimism, hopeful realism, informed optimism, and completion – with the possibility of checking out as a part of the process. This process is similar to Gartner’s hype cycle, though Gartner doesn’t focus on how one might exit the process.

Bridges, in Managing Transitions, has a slightly different assertion. He asserts that, even when changes are perceived as positive, people still experience a sense of loss for the current way of doing things and will therefore follow an emotional cycle like the one Kubler-Ross describes. Bridges’ model doesn’t preclude the kind of unrealistic optimism that Conner describes. Similarly, Conner doesn’t prohibit the concept that someone might simultaneously think that the change is both positive and negative and therefore may be on both cycles simultaneously.

Intellectual Preparation and Emotional Readiness

Our reason can intellectually prepare us for events that we anticipate in the future, yet it can somehow not necessarily prepare us emotionally. When you’re aware that a loved one is on the slow decline to their death, it doesn’t change the emotional toll that their passing places on your heart. The simple fact is that no amount of intellectual preparation can prepare you emotionally. Emotions, it seems, operate with their own mechanisms.

It’s possible to communicate and prepare an organization for an impending change and still need to carefully address the emotions associated with the change. Whether the change includes the retirement of a beloved mascot or saying goodbye to facilities that are no longer appropriate for the organization, the emotions that are uncovered may be overwhelming at times.

Ignoring these emotions or pretending they do not exist should be done only at one’s peril. Not only is the change effort likely to not succeed, but one’s career is also likely to be negatively impacted.

Prediction Engines

More than anything, humans are prediction engines. We try to predict what will happen next to prepare ourselves for it. While we may not be able to change the circumstances, we find some solace in our ability to predict the outcomes – even the negative outcomes. Our brains are wired around prediction so completely that even laughter seems to be the result of a prediction gone wrong. It’s the error-checking routine in our head that focuses us on more accurately predicting what’s happening next. (See Inside Jokes for more.)

I was trained as a comedian. (See I am a Comedian.) The good news is that this helped me learn how to be funny and how humor works even when I’m not funny. However, it’s also made me very aware of the tricks that comedians use to get the audience to laugh – as a result, they don’t deceive me, and I don’t genuinely laugh. I can appreciate their application of the techniques, but in many ways, learning how to better predict comedy made comedy itself less amusing.

Laughter is the relief valve programmed in to allow us to find amusement at the failure to predict the outcome. It’s a way to recalibrate and prevent us from the anxiety of a failure to accurately predict the future. We’re so wired to doing this that nature needed a pressure relief valve. It’s also why people under extreme stress sometimes think that inappropriate things are funny.

The Need for Control

Our fundamental nature as a prediction engine leads us to a high need for control. We want to know that the predictions we make will come true, and the best way to do that is if we are in control of the outcomes. Of course, control is just an illusion, and therefore we have a great number of ways that we shield our egos from the truth about our minimal degree of influence or control over certain acts. (See Compelled to Control for more about our need to control and Change or Die for more about our ego’s defenses.)

We believe that our control of situations eliminates violations of our expectations and therefore keeps us safe. However, the more we believe in our predictions and the more certain we are about our safety, the greater our risk is of being proved wrong in spectacular ways.

The Nature of Change

While we view all change as the same thing, not all changes are the same. Some changes are trivial and incremental in nature, while others are transformative. The techniques that are optimized for incremental and continuous improvement aren’t designed to address the transformative kinds of change that shake our perceptions of the world. Some of the changes that we confront are mere inconveniences, while others may require radically rethinking our values.

While it’s convenient to refer to all change in one big bucket, choosing strategies for responding to change requires a more detailed understanding of the forces that are preventing the change and the reasons that can be harnessed to create the change.

Demystification of Patterns

Watching an airplane take off for the first time can be a powerful experience. There’s something magical about that moment when you see an aircraft lift itself off the ground with nothing – at least that’s what it seems like. There are forces working on the aircraft in a predictable way, but you’re unable to see or understand them until someone explains them to you. Bernoulli first discovered the impacts of air flow and differential pressures, which led to the creation of the airfoil, which generates lift. Once you know how these forces work, you may still revere our ability to create heavier-than-air flight, but it’s no longer mysterious, and it’s somehow a bit less scary.

The change in our organization is similar. The better that we can teach people to demystify the forces that surround the culture and the change, the less concern and fear will surround the moment. The heart of change management is to demystify the process to the point where fear has no place to hide.

Assimilation Points

The truth is that it’s practically impossible to eliminate fear in organizations. (See The Fearless Organization for more.) Instead you must settle for reducing fear to a manageable level so that everyone can continue to function. Everyone has a degree of fear that they’re capable of accepting before their behavior becomes dysfunctional. That degree of fear is driven by their assimilation points. Assimilation points are consumed for every change consumed. It’s the capacity for change and fear. The greater the change and the more potential for negative consequences, the more points are consumed. Once you’ve consumed more points than the person has, they begin their dysfunctional behavior.

Obviously, this leads to the need to manage how much change you ask of people. More than that, it calls for you to create situations where there’s a greater number of assimilation points available. This comes through providing opportunities for the person to strengthen their self-efficacy and therefore become less fearful of the changes.

Conner here speaks of assimilation points as if there’s a fixed cost for a given change and as if people have different capacities. In my observation, it’s not that people increase their capacity as much as the costs are lower for people who have greater levels of self-efficacy because of the reduced fear they experience.

The Economics of Change

One of the recurring themes in change management is the costs of staying the same must be higher than the costs of changing, whether this is expressed via the Beckhard and Harris Change Formula or more simply by saying the change was mandatory. The important point here is that Conner coined the term “burning platform” based on the 1988 disastrous explosion and fire on an oil-drilling platform in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland and the interview with survivor Andy Mochan, who jumped from certain death on the platform to possible death in the freezing waters below.

The idea of a “burning platform” has become a part of change lore. John Kotter’s first step is to create a sense of urgency, but he’s careful to discourage yelling “fire” about platforms that aren’t burning. If there’s truly a burning platform, then it’s appropriate to warn others; however, if you warn folks too early, you may become as irrelevant as the boy who cried wolf.

Climbing the Shallow Slope

While it’s possible to get people to flee certain death and take whatever measures necessary – no matter how risky – in most cases, our change efforts don’t involve a truly burning platform. Instead they’re motivators that push us forward towards change, but the degree of change that individuals are willing to risk is proportional to the risk they perceive of staying the same.

Thus, we end up in a situation where, if we ask big things from our users, we’re forced to ensure that the motivating factors are large. So, we can either invest energy in making the problem seem as big as possible, or we can spend time making the asks of people easier for them to do.

Here, Robert Cialdini’s work in Influence is a key accelerator. He explains that if you ask people for small but measurable commitments, they’re more likely to make bigger commitments in the future. When it comes to change, we want to make sure that the first changes we ask someone for are small enough to be perceived as reasonable. From there, we remove the barriers to the next step (see Demand) and continue to ask for progressively larger changes until we’ve achieved all the individual changes that are required for organizational change success.

Visible Commitment

The fact that these small commitments must be visible isn’t a small factor. Rogers in Diffusion of Innovations was clear that the ability for someone to observe that others are doing the behavior is key to winning over the majority. We can amplify the visibility of changes by celebrating the successes of the change. Enhanced visibility not only for the change that is desired but the results that are achieved.

This is why organizations do successful case studies. People want to know that others have been successful before they’re willing to make the change themselves.

Resisting Loss

It’s common to hear that the people in the organization are resistant to change. It’s become folklore that people resist change. The problem is that this isn’t true, as Bridges has pointed out. (See Managing Transitions.) People resist loss – not change overall. When you experience resistance in your change effort, the key question isn’t “Why can’t they just listen?” The key question is what loss are they mourning? (See On Death and Dying for more.)

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine – Pay for Commitment or Resistance

You don’t have to do the work to generate commitment any more than you need to put a stitch in torn clothing as soon as you notice the tear. You can choose to ignore the situation; however, if you do, you should be prepared to deal with the consequences. Whether it’s nine stiches or the resistance that will naturally ensue when people aren’t committed to the change, there will be a cost.

It’s a pay me now or pay me later situation that allows you to prepare folks so they don’t feel profound loss and instead are focused on the benefits that they’ll receive – or you can pay for the resistance that is generated when they focus on their loss.

Needing Each Other

With the exception of solo entrepreneurs, the truth is that everyone in the organization needs everyone else for the organization to continue to succeed and therefore stay employed. There are people in the organization whom you need to do their job so that you can do yours. Often in corporate life, it becomes one group against the other group – competing for whose approach is best or who is more important. However, in change, we need to rely on one another to accomplish the objectives rather than compete for scarce resources.

No ingredient is more important than another when making bread. Neither can an organization exist without its departments all functioning. Until the perspective is changed that everyone is there to support each other and the organization, it’s likely that the change effort will struggle.

Understanding Not Agreement

A key miss when developing this shared sense of mission and mutual need is the belief that we need to agree with everyone else in the organization. That’s not required. All that’s required is a degree of understanding of the others’ perspectives and the awareness that their perspectives are valid – even if they don’t match ours.

This key also supports us when we’re working on resolving conflicts inside the organization. Too frequently, we get caught by the fact that we don’t agree and fail to work towards understanding. (See Conflict: The Importance of Acceptance for more.)

Anti-victimization

When we feel as if others don’t understand us and they won’t listen to us, it’s easy to fall into the trap of victimhood. (See Hostage at the Table for more on victimhood.) We all visit victimhood from time to time. The trick is to learn not to buy a house there. The more that we can help everyone learn how to recognize their role in the change process, the less concerned that we need to be about people making an offer on the house. We feel like victims when we believe we have no power and no voice in the conversation. Giving everyone a voice reduces the tendencies towards victimization.

In the end, managing change may be about learning how to use the existing forces and perspectives to your advantage so you can do some Managing at the Speed of Change.

Book Review-Reimagine Change: Escape Change Fatigue, Build Resilience, and Awaken Your Creative Brilliance

My work often feels like it’s strangely disconnected; however, Reimagine Change: Escape Change Fatigue, Build Resilience, and Awaken Your Creative Brilliance connects two aspects of my world. Aspect number one is the work on change management. (See Confident Change Management for more.) The second aspect is burnout. (See Extinguish Burnout for more.) They connect and intersect in the ability to engage and motivate people, though change requires an ability to get people unstuck from burnout.

Reimagine Change is odd in that it sits somewhere between personal change and self-help book and organizational change management. Most books end up solidly on one side or another, but this one is one part of each with no clear weighting to either side.

Change Advocates

“Leaders at all levels are now expected to assume the role of change advocate.” I don’t know that I’d qualify this as “now.” I think leaders have always needed to be the facilitator of change. Leaders are, after all, leading somewhere. I do, however, think that there’s a greater awareness of the need for leadership and how it’s separate from position and a distinct discipline from management.

Here, Burns’ work, Leadership, and Rost’s work, Leadership for the Twenty-First Century, help to articulate the difference between someone who manages and someone who truly leads. We’re left with little doubt that leaders are changing themselves, those that follow them, and their organizations daily.

6R Model

Reimagine Change is built around a 6R model:

  1. REALISE your reality
  2. RESPOND via your capability
  3. RECLAIM your brain
  4. REGENERATE your body
  5. RECODE your mind
  6. REIMAGINE your creativity

I don’t know that these six are fully explored in the book, but many of them are reminiscent of the teaching we do with Extinguish Burnout.

Stress

Perhaps the biggest challenge I had with Reimagine Change came from the lack of precision around what burnout is, how it works, and the role of stress. I’ll freely admit that we’ve developed a highly consistent view of how burnout works and what it is and isn’t. Our work here is informed by an understanding of the work around learned helplessness (see The Hope Circuit for more) and, importantly, Spolsky’s work in Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.

In short, stress is a payday loan. It’s short-term gain at the expense of long-term consequences. This necessarily reduces our long-term efficacy. This reduced efficacy makes us believe that we’re not making progress, which leads to learned helplessness and the feelings of inefficacy that characterize burnout.

When authors confuse stress (an indirect impact) as directly causal for burnout, I’m given great pause. While Lancaster is far from the only one to make this mistake, it’s concerning every time I see it.

Stressor Assessment

It’s concerning, because it fails to see the problem with enough clarity to enable folks to move forward. Consider, for a moment, stress itself. It’s considered a single thing, when, in reality, it’s not. We evaluate stressors for their probability and impact, and then we separately evaluate our capacity to overcome or mitigate the impacts of the stressor. The more resources we have directly or through our relationships, the less likely we are to see a stressor as stress inducing.

We experience stress when we’re concerned about our capacity to address the impact of a stressor. To be clear, it’s only when our capacity and the perceived impact are close that we develop a stress response. In cases like asteroids hitting the Earth, most of us don’t believe we have the resources to survive such a cataclysmic event, and therefore it rarely – if ever – creates stress for us.

Self-Awareness

What percentage of folks do you suppose are self-aware? Tasha Eurich is quoted as saying that 95% of people believe themselves to be self-aware when 10-15% of people actually are. Here, it’s tricky, because we’re all self-aware to some degree. We’re wired to have a self-perception of our body parts. It’s called proprioception, and it’s a part of us. More than that, we all know what colors and foods we like as well as a long list of things that we dislike.

The problem with such a broad-brush statement is that it’s treated as a binary response rather than the continuum that it is. I think a better statement would be that all of us should strive towards better self-awareness. This is something that even the Dalai Lama would agree is something that he works on. (See An Appeal to the World and The Dalai Lama’s Big Book of Happiness for more.)

Feelings Trump Facts

When it comes to who wins between the emotional elephant and the rational rider, it’s no contest. The rider believes they’re in control but discovers that the elephant gets its way when it really wants it. This is built on the elephant-rider-path metaphor that Jonathan Haidt first talked about in The Happiness Hypothesis and Dan and Chip Heath discussed in Switch.

The uptake of this is that our feelings, whether we like them or not, are really in control. If we want to make changes in our world, we’ve got to be willing to address our feelings as well as our thoughts.

Trauma

Everyone has trauma in their lives. We can either let it define us or we can work through it and work towards healing. Books like Opening Up and The Body Keeps the Score help us to see how trauma may be a fact of life, but it doesn’t have to be a life sentence.

Maybe if you want to find a way to change from your current place of being, whether personally or professionally, it’s time to Reimagine Change.

Book Review-Making Sense of Change Management: A Complete Guide to the Models, Tools, and Techniques of Organizational Change

Change management and organizational change are a big topic area. However, for the most part it’s been a territory without a map. Few books have focused on cataloging the organizational change space and instead seek to promote their own perspective about what’s the most important. Making Sense of Change Management: A Complete Guide to the Models, Tools, and Techniques of Organizational Change is a good map of the space without the overt bias towards one approach over another. It’s by far the most comprehensive catalog of concepts related to change management and organizational change that I’ve seen assembled. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it means that the coverage depth is very shallow for any given topic. The authors, Esther Cameron and Mike Green, have opted to send you to the original authors and research rather than attempting to convey such a vast collection of knowledge.

Change Management Body of Knowledge

The Change Management Institute (CMI) published a Change Management Body of Knowledge. There was only one edition before they started referring folks to Making Sense of Change Management instead. That’s a powerful statement about the comprehensive nature of the work and the perception that it’s the authoritative place to get an overview of the industry.

It should be noted that CMI isn’t the final authority on change management. There’s also The Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) that is moving forward the profession. Their approach to change management, standards, and publications is different. ACMP publishes The Standard for Change Management©, which is a collection of processes and artifacts that they believe lead to good change management.

Like any process, it is better when executed in conjunction with skills. Making Sense of Change Management offers awareness of many skills that are helpful in the successful implementation of a change where The Standard provides no guidance.

However, the situation is reversed when it comes to the way the organizations approach training. ACMP certifies Qualified Education Providers (QEPs) to teach change management materials that lead to the Certified Change Management Professional (CCMP). The CMI has a sole contract with one company to deliver their change management training. I don’t like sole contracts, because they don’t invite innovation and improvement of the materials. However, this situation illustrates how both organizations are closed in some respects (ACMP on The Standard, CMI on training delivery) and open on others (ACMP on training delivery, and CMI on the skills necessary to be successful).

Scoping Change

Because the book is intended as an overview, there were very few topics with substantial detail. However, there were various clues as to frameworks to view change in. The organization of the chapters builds up from individual change through team change and ultimately to organizational change before describing how to lead change from a position of authority – and a position without authority. This aligns with the awareness that all changes that are accomplished in organizations comes through teams, and all team change comes from individual change.

Sometimes, when we take a leadership, planning view of change, we forget that all change is individual change. The organization can’t change without the actions of individual people that themselves are changing. Remembering that change comes from individuals is important, because the place that change falls apart most frequently is in motivating the individual behaviors of individuals.

Transactional or Transformational

Think about the successful leaders that you’ve known. Think about the great presidents who have stood out across time, the great civic leaders, the great CEOs. They’ve got one thing in common that’s not easy to see from their accomplishments. They all got something done but did different things in different ways. What we recognize as good leaders, however, isn’t their ability to execute transactions or to squeeze the extra penny out of the process.

What we recognize most about great leaders is their ability to transform the way that we think about something from one way to another. Steve Jobs made us think that you could be creative and use a computer. Abraham Lincoln had us thinking about the United States and slavery in a very different way. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told us about his dream, and in doing so, he changed what civil rights meant. It wasn’t about equality. It was about friendship, comradery, and community.

Great changes are forged from the same stuff. Great changes are not incremental changes that shave a few percentage points off the cost or incrementally increase revenue. Those change are, no doubt, needed. However, the great changes, the memorable changes, transform the way the organization sees itself and how it interacts with the world.

Any Route to Mindfulness

Sometimes people look to a technique, because they believe it will give them the reward they want. Mindfulness is one such technique that has been idealized for its ability to improve leadership. While some denounce the commercialization of such a personal and spiritual practice, as Thich Nhat Hanh explains, it doesn’t matter the intention if they are truly reaching mindfulness.

When incorrect intentions collide with practices, sometimes it’s the intentions that shift. Techniques like mindfulness expand the capacity of the mind – and no matter why or how people came to this technique, they’ll find themselves positively transformed if they’re willing to be true to the practice.

Persistence

It’s not a single task or technique but rather a habit or demeanor that is the most powerful thing that influences change. The thing that influences change the most is something that Rosabeth Moss Kanter explained in The Change Masters. It’s persistence. There are several analogies and stories that can be used, like the consideration that the Grand Canyon was dug slowly by the Colorado River. We tend to want to do change when it’s easy – but it’s rarely (if ever) easy.

We all want to think about change as easier than it is. We want it to not take as much energy. Like good leadership, our ability to accomplish change is only truly seen when the going gets tough and we’ve got to persevere through the hard times.

The Pain of Staying the Same and the Pain of Change

Having worked with addicts whose lives is falling apart, I’ve learned a simple truth about change – all change. That is the pain of changing must be less than (or appear less than) the pain of staying the same. It’s not possible to get someone to change who doesn’t see some pain in their current situation. (If you want to learn more about my journey with helping addicts, you’ll find more hints in Chasing the Scream and Dreamland.) The good news is that for everyone the pain they’re currently experiencing can be the fear of future negative consequences. Robert Sapolsky in Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers explains how we’ve subsumed the stress response and can use it to drive future fear into the present.

One of the most challenging things about change is helping everyone in the organization understand how their current state is more painful than the change that you’re asking them to embark on. Sometimes that’s done by understating the effort of the change – consciously or unconsciously. A better approach is to help everyone understand the pain of the way they’re doing things now.

This isn’t always as easy as it seems. 70 years ago, there was no such thing as a microwave. When the Radarange microwave was released, people couldn’t imagine why you would want it. Why would you sacrifice taste and tenderness to be able to cook things without a stove? Today, no kitchen is complete without one. To achieve the change, it’s necessary to help people see the benefits of a solution that they don’t fully understand.

Change Emerging from Conditions

As broad a set of change management practices and perspectives as Making Sense of Change Management offers, there is no hidden secret. There’s no magic incantation that will result in a successful change in every condition. Instead, there’s the wisdom of David Bohm that things emerge. (See On Dialogue.) We can’t cause change to be successful. What we can do is create the conditions that favor success.

While it’s convenient and comforting to think in terms of direct cause and effect, this obscures the truth that there is rarely a single condition that leads to a result. Instead, we find ourselves looking at several factors that all lined up to create the success or failure. To simplify a change to a single technique or person that created the success or failure is an oversimplification that doesn’t help us be successful more frequently.

Change is Learning

All change is learning. It’s learning a new way of doing things. It’s a new set of behaviors, and those new behaviors are encouraged by knowing why a different approach might be better. Everett Rogers observed in The Diffusion of Innovations that it was the most cosmopolitan of farmers who first realized the value of a new technique and were therefore the most likely to adopt it.

Ed Schein believes that the critical task is to help people through the learning process. That is, we need to make the learning process easier, so that they can make the transition easier. This is at the heart of The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users that I wrote back in 2008. I wrote it to make it easier to learn Microsoft SharePoint – at a time when it was very difficult to find any training for end users. By making the process easier for end users to learn, I made it easier for organizations to transition to SharePoint.

I should insert an asterisk here and say that Schein is only mostly right. It’s not that you must help people through the learning process, it’s that you must help them be able to more easily perform the desired behavior. In other words, learning isn’t the end goal, it’s simply a means to an end. The other approach is to provide someone with a performance aid so that they don’t have to remember. (See Job Aids and Performance Support for more.) The truth is that The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide sat in the middle. We didn’t care if you learned SharePoint – we wanted you to be able to do things with SharePoint.

Anxiety

Change brings anxiety. Most people don’t understand what anxiety is. It’s simply fear without a specific target. If you know what you’re afraid of, you have fear. If you’re not sure what you’re afraid of exactly, you have anxiety. The difference is in your belief that you can anticipate the kinds of problems that you’ll encounter. If you feel as if you’re able to predict the threats that will be a problem for you, then you’ll have fear of them.

The challenge with anxiety is that you can’t fix anxiety. There’s no specific thing to go address, mitigate, examine, or work on. You just have a sense that your world can be turned upside down at any moment. This is what most people feel like in corporate or organizational change. They didn’t know it was coming, they didn’t have any input in the process, and they don’t know where it’s heading.

There are two ways to combat the natural anxiety that comes with change. The first is to continue to develop and reinforce everyone’s sense of personal agency, their ability to get things done, and to cope with changes. The second way is to continue to communicate completely and effectively. The more people realize that you’re telling them the whole truth, as you understand it, the more they begin to trust that they’ll know about a problem before it’s too late and there will be others who will be there to help them. The net effect is less anxiety – and therefore less resistance to the change.

Clarity

If there’s one place to end a book that is a survey of the kinds of skills that change managers and change agents need, it’s clarity. While the book itself lacks some clarity on the exact tools and skills that you should use to implement change in your organization, it is clear that the clarity that you can create about your change in the organization is a powerful lever that can be used to move the change forward.

Clarity seems like it’s an easy thing, but time and time again, we realize that getting to clarity isn’t quick. However, once you’ve reached clarity, it makes the communication and engagement process easy. Einstein is reported to have said that if he had an hour to work on a problem, he’d spend 55 minutes understanding the problem and 5 minutes trying to solve it.

Create clarity about what you need to do by reading Making Sense of Change Management – so that you can understand clearly the change that you want to create.

Book Review-Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Change

Never has the relationship between leadership and change been so laid bare as in Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Change. It should not be surprising that leadership and change are so related. Leaders are the catalysts and instruments of change. They help organizations and individuals make different decisions and exercise different behaviors. They are, in some ways, the embodiment of the best parts of change.

Defining Leadership

Joseph Rost spent most of his book Leadership in the Twenty-First Century trying to come around to a conversation about what leadership is. In the end, I’m not entirely sure he nailed it – but neither has anyone else, so whatever you’ve got is, I suppose, good enough. Rost – like James MacGregor Burns – believes that we focus too much attention on the leader and not enough on the relationship between the leader and the team. (If you’d like more about Burns’ work, it was titled, simply, Leadership.)

It’s in the context of realizing that leadership is about how a person – the leader – manages their relationships with others and how that can generate amazing outcomes.

Long Term Leadership

There’s definitely an awareness that leadership is a long-term game of developing people and accepting the criticisms that come your way when you’re willing and able to make some hard choices. Of course, effort must be consumed to keep from becoming the issue instead of just being the messenger of the issue. That being said, the essence of leadership is taking the hard-to-swallow pills and waiting to see how things are going to come out better.

The key to effective leadership is a long-term focus, but if you’re going to be around for the long term, you’ll have to expose people to a rate of change that they can absorb. Too fast, and the wheels come off the cart. Too slow, and the competitors in the market eat you for lunch.

Rate of Change

Post-It notes are interesting things. If the adhesive is too weak, they fall of the page. If it’s too strong, they tear the page when removed. Post-It notes work because they’re in that narrow band that’s neither too weak nor too strong. That’s where you want your rate of change for the organization and for individuals. Not too fast and not too slow. This sounds relatively simple in theory; however, in practice, it’s very difficult to accomplish.

Every person and every part of the organization has their own measure of the ideal rate of change. Some people have a high degree of tolerance for change, so they can handle a higher rate of change. Others in the organization have a much lower tolerance and need a slower rate of change. This means trying to find a general pace that’s in the center between most individuals, finding ways to mitigate the degree of apparent change for the folks who have a low capacity for change while accelerating the degree of apparent change for those who have a much higher capacity.

Complicating this process is that different parts of the organization will experience different amounts of change at different times. The result is a constant struggle to stay on the ball to ensure a degree of change that’s working for most people in most departments.

Leadership on the Line calls this “controlling the heat.” It’s about pushing enough to keep people and parts of the organization from falling out of the change process and not pushing so hard that people exceed their capacity for change.

Apparent Change

While Leadership on the Line doesn’t directly address the gap between actual change and the perception of change, the managing the heat metaphor certainly reflects this constant management of perceptions so that people perceive the change inside of their band of tolerance. There are several ways to manipulate this.

One way is to spread out the required behavioral changes over time. In the context of a single department, this may lengthen the time for the change, but depending on how things are sequenced inside of the overall change process, it may not impact timeline at all. By starting with the groups that have the most change and allowing them to process that change over a longer period of time, it’s possible to “turn down the heat.”

Another approach is to deploy a temporary compensating measure. Consider the idea of a need to do double entry during a transition for a short period of time. It’s possible to ask those responsible for data entry to enter into both the old system and the new one, or it’s possible to hire assistance to do the old work. (I’d encourage this rather than the added requirement of doing the new work.) Similarly, it’s possible to add help to take care of mundane tasks to create time and availability to do the double entry.

Obviously, care must be taken that the compensating measure doesn’t become a permanent crutch, but as a part of ensuring that the rate of change remains acceptable, it’s an important option.

Quality Connections

Not to discount the importance of mass communication, stakeholder management, or any of the other things that one needs to understand in managing a successful change project, but above all, the connections that people make and maintain with one another are critical. Humans are wired for connection. In fact, in The Heart and Soul of Change, it’s asserted that the most powerful component of the therapy process is the alliance between the therapist and the patient – their connection.

We see this need for connection everywhere. Even baboons whose mother has a better social network have a higher survival rate. In the wild and in our domesticated societies, connections matter. (Even connections with dogs matter – see How Dogs Love Us.)

Accepting Anger

When someone – particularly when they’re in a close relationship with you – expresses their anger at you, it’s hard to stay detached and absorb it without becoming personally defensive. (See Conflict: Detachment not Disengagement for more on detachment and Dialogue for more on automatically being defensive.) However, as difficult as this may be, it’s a powerful way of building trust. By absorbing the attack without retaliating, you demonstrate that you’re safe both physically and psychologically. (See The Fearless Organization for more on psychological safety.) This isn’t the normal expectation for folks.

We expect that when we attack others, they’re likely to attack back. It’s human nature to defend yourself. However, when you find ways to not perceive anger as an attack, you show that it’s safe for others to share their feelings without retaliation.

Technical and Adaptive Change

Some of the changes that an organization undertakes are well known. Instead of doing X, you’ll do Y. These changes Heifetz and Linsky call “technical changes.” They’re straightforward, because the answers and outcomes are all known. The other kind of change – the kind of change that we face when dealing with complex organizations and individuals – are adaptive changes. These kinds of changes require adaptation and experimentation.

For adaptive changes, there’s no one known way to do it right or, in many cases, even a pattern for what “right” looks like. Instead, we must set out in a general direction and work our way through the challenges and opportunities to find an answer that works.

Adaptive changes are therefore more challenging and require more preparation and energy. They’re often worth the extra effort because of the transformational effects that can be realized when the changes are implemented.

Evolutionary not Revolutionary

Successful change is more evolutionary than revolutionary. In adaptive changes, we evolve to one change, then adapt and make another push forward. Often, there’s no one defining moment where we move from one space to another. Instead, there’s a gradual progression to more changed thinking and more of the newer, more desirable behaviors.

Leading in these environments, where change is continuous and evolutionary, requires a greater level of manager than was needed fifty years ago. It’s the state of constant change that puts Leadership on the Line.

Book Review-A Dynamic Theory of Personality (Selected Papers of Kurt Lewin)

It’s hard to work in learning and motivation, or even remotely care about how people work, without stumbling into Kurt Lewin’s work. Most of the time, people quote the high level and don’t go back to read his writing directly. They think about force fields and behavior functions and stop there. However, I was recently intrigued by a subtle difference between the way some authors referred to his behavior equation and decided the only way to get to the bottom of the mystery was to read his work directly. That’s what led me to A Dynamic Theory of Personality and therein some of Lewin’s writings.

Behavior is a Function of Person and Environment

It’s a simple formula – B = f(P,E). However, it is profound. It says that both person and environment influence behavior but that their interactions are opaque. We don’t know precisely how they interact – and the implication is that we may not be able to know. The mystery that started the journey was that some people wrote the function with the word “situation” instead of “environment.” Indeed, most of the places surrounding the actual equation use situation instead of environment. However, what is most likely happening is an artifact of the translation process, since the original work was written in German.

Whether the text was using the word situation or environment, the intent was the same. The things around us, from cultural norms to the kind of lighting and how warm or cold it is, influence our behaviors in subtle – and sometimes not subtle – ways. The situation we find ourselves in influences our behavior. If we’re in a stressful situation (or environment), we’ll behave differently.

What started out as a question about whether the original intent was situation or environment led to another fascinating observation about Lewin’s research.

Mentally Retarded Children

What I realized that much of Lewin’s work was with mentally retarded children – his words are “feeble-minded” and “moron.” (Perhaps I’m showing my own bias by not using the NIH preferred terms, but I prefer to think of these children as held back or limited instead of disabled.) His studies included comparing the behavior patterns of these children to those who were more normal and investigating the differences in their behavior patterns, particularly their persistence. This reminded me of The Marshmallow Test and Grit – how persistence and patience pay off. However, the data was interesting because it showed that mentally retarded children seemed to have a greater degree of persistence – and a lower distractibility. This is also interesting from the perspective that the task put in front of the mentally retarded children might have put them in the challenge-skills ratio to support them entering flow. (See The Rise of Superman, Flow, and Finding Flow for more on the psychological state of flow.)

It also reminded me of Einstein and his self-admission that he wasn’t the brightest student – but that he was more persistent. (See Raise Your Line for one mention of this.) It’s also been claimed that Thomas Edison was removed from school and educated by his mother, because he wasn’t a good student. Whether this is true or is simply a myth, it’s interesting to me that Lewin’s research showed a tendency for mentally retarded people to work on something for longer. We know from Carol Dweck’s work on Mindset and Anders Ericcson’s work on Peak that people can radically change their capacity if they’re willing to work on it.

The First Force Fields

Science fiction has become enamored with force fields. It’s a chosen device for protecting the good guys from the bad guys – and vice versa. In their science fiction form, they’re impenetrable fields that can protect against projectiles, lasers, and anything else the opponent might come up with. Lewin’s force fields are more akin to physical science than science fiction. The force lines that magnets generate and the vector equations of physics are more like the force fields that Lewin used to understand and describe the behavior he was seeing.

It’s not like it’s impossible to push through Lewin’s force fields. It just takes some effort. There are a set of normal forces that hold things in their relative state. Even if the state is oscillating, there is some relative balance that things fall into. The planets orbit the Sun and the Moon orbits the Earth in a relative stable environment, where the forces of gravity are balanced with the centrifugal force exerted as the heavenly bodies try to continue along their straight paths. However, a force can be exerted that will knock things completely out of balance – and can snap one or more of the force fields being applied to something.

That’s why when we teach change managers about implementing change, we recommend that they look for opportunities to change the forces that are present rather than directly exerting force against them. If you ever find yourself trapped near a black hole, accelerating your orbit around the black hole will be much more effective than trying to directly pull against it. (See how we teach change management in our Confident Change Management course.)

Quenching and Satiating

There’s another way that we teach to shut down the forces that are holding you back. It’s quenching. Forces are exerted only when the need or drive is active. When you satiate the need, you quench it. The key, then, becomes what does satiating mean, and how do you satiate to the point where the force being generated is quenched?

It may be easiest to think in terms of hunger. A very hungry person will do almost anything to get food. The forces that propel them are very powerful. However, after a big meal, there is almost no force to get food – there might even be a small push against food if their belly is already stuffed, like after a feast.

If someone has a drive for position, it can be that their drive is quenched – at least temporarily if not permanently – by a promotion to the next level. Sometimes, this means giving in on smaller and less important issues to neutralize the disproportionally high forces they exert on people. In my experience, many people are happy to do the same or more work with a simple change of title – even if it doesn’t change their responsibilities or authority.

The Choice of Punishment

Perhaps the most interesting observation was the observation that sometimes-threatened punishments are considered as choices rather than being considered as unacceptable alternatives. When presented as “You do X, or I’ll punish you with Y,” some children decide that Y is better than X, so they specifically state that they’d like that alternative.

The problem is we rarely enumerate all the consequences of failing to do the desired behavior. Thus, the equation that is being evaluated is incomplete. The expectation is still that the child completes the requested activity – even with the punishment.

Observations like these make it important to dig into Kurt Lewin’s work, and one good place to start is A Dynamic Theory of Personality.

Book Review-The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

The relationship between our mind and our body is an ever-evolving story. We continue to learn how our mind and our bodies are inextricably linked. In The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Bessel van der Kolk walks through the research on how our physiology is changed by the traumas that we experience.

The Relationship

I’m not entirely sold that trauma becomes embodied. There isn’t a compelling case that your pinky – or any other body part – becomes the place that trauma dwells. However, it really doesn’t matter whether the trauma becomes embodied or whether the relationship between our brains and our bodies is so intertwined that the changing neural patterns changes our physiology.

It is clear that our brains are changed by trauma. We literally see the world differently and react differently. Trauma that we can’t fully process can become stuck and make it difficult for us to process any experiences – good or bad. In the attempt to make sense of the trauma, people reapply it to everything they encounter. It colors their perceptions, feelings, and everyday thoughts. While flashbacks are conscious reminders of the trauma, they often live the trauma daily as they may overreact to simple things.

Avoidance

If there’s something stuck in your head that you don’t have the cognitive resources to process, you might try to avoid it. The weapon of choice to blunt the unarticulated pain may be alcohol, drugs, or sex – but these are the solutions, not the problems they’re often portrayed as. Addicts to these things or anything else are often trying to blunt the pain of a trauma they can’t fully understand. The tool of choice allows them to stop feeling for a while – and it is therefore the solution.

Please don’t misunderstand: it’s not a good solution. It’s not a healthy solution. However, addicts use their chosen substance or behavior as a solution, and treating it as the problem may create conflict. This is one of the reasons why Motivational Interviewing can be so useful. It allows us to reframe our perceptions around the perceptions of the person we’re working with.

To move past and heal from trauma, it’s necessary to acknowledge, experience, and bear the weight of the trauma. While this isn’t easy, it is possible. The key is creating safe spaces where people can reprocess the trauma slowly and safely. A lesser form of the kind of processing that needs to be done to escape the kind of boxes we put ourselves in when we’re disingenuous to ourselves as was discussed in The Anatomy of Peace.

Auto Homing

The tragedy that befalls some children is the automatic instinct to return home. Somewhere deep within our psyche, we expect that homes are safe places. We expect that the people who are our parents should care for us and work to keep us safe. Even when it is our caretakers who are harming us, we’ll still seek to come back home. It’s a powerful pull that few can escape.

This makes helping people who are being harmed by the very people who are supposed to be protecting them very difficult. They may find creative ways to disassociate the caretaker’s abuse from their normal expectations of home. You can be scared of daddy – and still welcome him home after his long day at work. Both are incompatible but are held in different compartments within the mind, because it’s the only way to endure the trauma.

Prediction Engines Need Data

Humans are fundamentally prediction engines. It’s what we do, and those prediction engines need data they can process. When a trauma comes, it interrupts the normal flow of processing data and thereby gums up the works for all experiences, both good and bad. Neurologically, our brains cope with an overwhelming trauma by taking parts of the brain offline – to manage how we consume the glucose. However, those areas are the very same areas that we need to be able to make sense of the trauma and convert it into the story that our prediction engine brains need.

The Rise of Superman explains how our brains have a fixed capacity for consumption of energy. To reach flow, some areas are switched offline. In trauma, different areas are switched offline, including Broca’s area – the one that’s responsible for the syntax of language. The result is we have problems explaining the trauma because the parts of our neurology that do this are quite literally unavailable to use.

Tragically, because the trauma isn’t processed, it gets stuck. When it’s run back through the processing the next time, if the variables for fear aren’t constrained, the trauma fails to be processed again, and it’s in the queue for the next day. This process can continue endlessly until the trauma can be processed either naturally or with the help of someone.

Desensitization and Safety

Albert Bandura popularized the use of desensitization as a tool for treating phobias. The idea is that you gradually expose people to situations that more closely resemble their fears. This gradual escalation allows people to come to terms with their fears and feel safer. (See more of his work in Moral Disengagement.) The problem is that for those who have experienced trauma it may not be possible to gradually move people closer to their fears. They all too quickly trigger and thereby overwhelm them.

As a result, strategies to deal with trauma are more frequently focused on revisiting the trauma in their mind – without reintroducing the specific circumstances. More importantly, the strategies that are most effective focus on pushing people into their trauma but only to the extent that they can continue to feel safe.

An opposite response to hyper activation is disassociation. That is, the trauma victim completely disconnects from their emotional selves and thereby avoids the pain of needing to deal with emotion. Unfortunately, disassociation is a rather blunt instrument, and as such, it’s not just the emotions surrounding the trauma that are deadened but all emotions to everything. In short, while people who disassociate with the trauma may lead otherwise productive lives, they bear an unimaginable weight themselves in their inability to connect with others and sustain the life-giving relationships we all need.

Triggering

Those who have suffered trauma often overreact to the things that happen naturally in day-to-day life. A smell or sound may trigger a flashback to the trauma – an instant state of fear and confusion – and as a result may cause them to react in powerful ways that are unexpected and unpredictable to those around them. The key is to create self-awareness to the degree that people know they’re triggered and give them tools to work through the effects of the triggering.

The truth is that the key to responding to being triggered is a quick awareness and response. The natural tendency when triggered is the shutdown of higher-order reasoning – but this takes a few seconds. If the neocortex – more specifically, the medial prefrontal cortex – can downregulate the triggering enough, then it can prevent the person from becoming totally flooded and losing their ability for rational thought.

Emotional Stuffing

The goal in responding to triggering isn’t to prevent emotions or deny they exist. It’s better to think of this from the perspective of accepting the emotions for what they are and trying to place them in a broader context. Stuffing the emotions or denying them has negative consequences to the body and the long-term mental health of the person.

One can accept emotions – without allowing them to overwhelm oneself.

The Elephant and the Horse

I’ve stated repeatedly that my favorite mental metaphor is Jonathan Haidt’s Elephant-Rider-Path model. (See The Happiness Hypothesis and Switch.) However, what I learned here is that this is really more derivative than I might have first expected. Paul MacLean – the same guy that developed the three part description of the brain (where others, like Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow, use two parts) – apparently first described the rational brain as a rider and the emotional brain as a horse.

Since horses are much more common in the US – and particularly in the Midwest, where I live – I always tell a story of my father riding a horse through a fence to explain why the elephant is really in charge. While I love the alliteration of the emotional elephant, it’s much more practical to think in terms of a rider on top of a horse, since I’ve myself seen that – and I’ve also ridden horses.

Integration

Desensitization is only one route to the true goal. The true goal is to integrate experiences, integrate the feelings with the rational thought. Connecting experiences into a story-like narrative that makes things make sense. While desensitization works for most people, it’s not the solution for everyone. Even cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), which is widely regarded as the most effective psychological technique, doesn’t appear to work with PTSD patients.

CBT is designed to reshape thinking patterns, but its roots in desensitization leaves it susceptible to the limits of preventing the patient from becoming emotionally triggered or flooded which, is particularly challenging when working with people who have a history including trauma – which is, unfortunately, many of us. As a result, there needs to be great care taken to create and recreate safe spaces. It’s necessary to have constant vigilance around feelings of fear and be willing to step back as many times as necessary until the process of reexperiencing the trauma is safe enough to be processed and integrated into our thinking.

Writing It Down

In Opening Up, we learned of the therapeutic effects of writing and how writing conveys positive health benefits. The question might rightly come whether it’s the expression of the trauma that results in improvement or if there’s something magical about writing it down that leads to results. The answer seems to be that there’s something about the writing process that conveys the benefits.

Breaking this down a bit, there doesn’t seem to be controlled study of interventions related to verbally communicating a solution versus not. As a result, it’s hard to say whether writing or talking about a traumatic experience would be better; however, Opening Up explains the paradoxical relationship where people were more likely to be open when they were being recorded when compared to being face-to-face with someone. If we step aside from the conversation of whether it must be written or can be spoken, we can look at the broader question of whether it’s the conversion into language that is important.

As it turns out, it seems that dance, painting, and other artistic forms don’t seem to convey the same results as writing does. As a result, we can say that writing it down matters – without forgoing the possibility that talking about it may be just as valuable. This is particularly true of folks who may find it difficult to write because they become overwhelmed and there’s no one there to help them downregulate when their self-regulation capacities are overwhelmed.

Helping Your Younger Self

It’s been reported by many that one of the ways that recovering people seem to relieve the trauma is by visualizing their current self reentering the trauma and protecting the younger version of themselves from the trauma. While this cannot be a literal representation of the truth, conceptually, it’s powerful.

Bandura was also known for his work on self-efficacy. Martin Seligman and Steven Maier worked on learned helplessness – and the importance of the belief of some degree of control or influence over circumstances. (See The Hope Circuit for more.) Ultimately, the consensus seems to be that one’s belief in their ability to influence their environment is important to mental health. The idea of protecting oneself bends the arc of influence back on itself.

By recognizing their power today and using it as a tool to support their image of their younger self, they’re leveraging their own power to heal the old wounds that were inflicted upon them. Psychically speaking, that young boy or girl is still inside the adult versions of ourselves. That child version can either feel safe or they can feel fear. If they feel fear, it will continue to express itself in terms of our health. (See Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers for more.)

Relationships

The other way that you can avoid feeling helpless is through the benevolence of others. You can avoid being stuck if someone or something will bail you out. Many religious beliefs have an all-powerful being who is capable of rescuing believers from any situation. The result of believing in religion has been well studied and has a confirmed positive effect – even if there has been some difficulty separating the effect due to the religion itself and the effect caused by having a cohesive group of relationships.

We are, and always have been, social creatures. We need others to survive, and when we feel isolated from others, we’re the most susceptible to depression and suicide. The isolation need not be physical – it’s more frequently the result of feelings of social isolation.

One of the challenges with traumatized people is that they trauma they face was most frequently inflicted by others. Whether the trauma is war, physical abuse, or sexual abuse, trauma is most often caused by others – and as a result, it can reorient our perspectives on relationships and trust. We can find that we feel as if we can’t trust anyone, so we isolate ourselves. (See Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy, Revisited for more.)

Abuse inflicts not only the initial trauma, but it also robs them of the ability to develop and maintain the kind of intimate relationships that will improve their long-term health and allow them to be more mentally stable. Learning to trust is a long road, particularly when you’ve been betrayed.

Hurting People Hurt People

One of the truths that you’ll hear in recovery circles is that hurting people hurt people. That is, those who are hurting you are likely hurt themselves. Whether you hurt them or they were hurt by others before you arrived, the results are the same. People who are hurting tend to lash out at others and harm them. Unfortunately, when this happens, The Body Keeps the Score, and they go on hurting others. Perhaps you can break the chain and stop the cycle.

Information Governance and Water: The Results of Control

Some information governance programs are focused on command and control. Thou shalt do this or that. Thou will not do something else. And while, on the surface, these tactics seem to work, they drive behaviors underground and expose information to more risks and simultaneously reduce productivity. While, on the surface, control looks like a good solution, it typically fails in the end.

Pressure

Pressure vessels are a marvel of the modern world. We can compress a gas and keep it contained. The release of pressure is what drove the industrial age through steam engines that increased in pressure and drove us forward. The problem is that pressure vessels fail. Early in the Industrial Age, there were numerous deaths due to the spontaneous destruction of a pressure vessel. Steam engine boiler tanks burst and killed people.

Every pressure vessel that we create has a point at which it can no longer contain the pressure and fails. The problem is not so much that there is a point of failure. The problem is that, when there is a failure, it’s unpredictable and so destructive. That’s why applying too much pressure in your information governance program in the form of control can lead to some disastrous consequences.

Information Governance Pressure

How, one might ask, does information governance apply pressure to an organization? The answer lies in the pressure that is exerted between the normal and desired behaviors and the behaviors that the governance plan tries to enforce. Like a dam holding back water, there is pressure against the policies to allow the individual and the organization to do their normal work. Like a dam, these policies hold back the normal flow, which may cause useful reservoirs, but those dams have limits.

We’ve seen stunning examples of dam failures. One moment, everything seems fine. The next moment, there’s a wall of water flowing down. In most failures, the problems start well before the final moment of failure. There’s some erosion in an earthen dam. Water slowly seeps through and erodes the base that the dam needs until it fails, and that failure causes the remainder – or a substantial portion – of the dam to fail.

Information governance programs do need to shape the flow of the information in an organization, but to do so without recognizing the limits is inviting people to subvert the official processes and do something less secure.

Escaping Pressure

Like water finding its way to and through weak spots in a dam, so, too, will users find ways to do their jobs even when the information governance program prevents such activities directly.

Consider password rules. NIST (The National Institute of Standards and Technology) has changed their guidance on passwords, because the degree of complexity in managing passwords necessitated that people start writing them down and storing them in places that made them less secure than simply having a single password that never changes – or a password that never changes plus a second factor authentication. There’s the tacit acknowledgement that the password complexity rules and change frequency forced people into behaviors that actually reduced rather than increased security.

What about sharing rules? Organizations want their workers to collaborate with external partners and consultants, but when users are prohibited from sharing the documents directly, they place corporate information in personal cloud storage and share with third parties from those locations. Not only does this break the intent of the guidance but it also removes corporate information from the boundaries of the corporation, so it’s not available for others to search and may be lost when the person leaves the organization.

Some organizations have approached these problems with more aggressive controls that block access to private file sites – which only causes users to start saving copies of their files in their emails and making it more difficult to manage the information.

Much like water will always find a way to get lower eventually, even the craftiest of strategies to block users from doing bad behaviors will fail if you don’t design in a way for them to get their work done.

Book Review-Real Time Strategic Change

In the game of buzzword bingo, this book has it all. Real Time Strategic Change has all the words that people want. They want the change to happen now (or in real time), and they want it to be strategic. Wouldn’t it be nice if all change could be that way? However, there’s a big commitment that’s required to make this work – and it’s one that most organizations aren’t willing to make.

The Event

Real Time Strategic Change is based around the idea of an event where you gather a substantial portion of the organization and you engage them in the change design process. It can be the entire organization, an entire plant, or an entire division, but the whole point is that it’s a substantial percentage of the people impacted by the change. Even when it’s not practical to bring literally everyone in, the recommendation is to bring in many people.

The sessions are planned, but more than that, they’re designed as facilitated sessions, where the conversations are supported and guided but not scripted. The result is, after the event, everyone feels like they’re on the same page, the leadership has listened, and everyone is in it together. I have no doubts that the results of the approach are impressive. When you make that sort of an investment, people are quite clear that you’re serious, and they’re clear that something different is happening. That means the organization is going to see some degree of positive results from the change.

Commitment

Most people who write about change are clear that executive leadership is key. They must be bought in. They must support the change with both their words and their deeds. Equally important is the ability for the leadership to listen to the needs of the people. Jim Collins in Good to Great highlights this ability to listen and to stay the course as the Stockdale Paradox.

While changes are easier when there is leadership support, it’s not the only way to get change done. It’s just the easiest way. Of course, that means the likelihood of success goes up. When your organization makes a commitment to a real time strategic change, even the commitment is big, the risk is high, and the results are more likely to be positive. While the event itself may be effective, the signal that the investment in the event makes may be a more powerful message to the organization that “this time, we’re serious.”

Everett Rogers explained in Diffusion of Innovations that once you get past the innovators, everyone else needs proof – and progressively more of it. The event provides a great deal of proof, very rapidly.

Not Invented Here

One of the key things that is addressed by the event is the tendency towards not invented here (NIH). This is the natural tendency of people to resist things that they weren’t consulted on, or at least informed of, ahead of time. It has been talked about in business books for decades. By engaging everyone in the process of designing the new strategies and change, they necessarily feel like they’re a part of it, and this side-steps the NIH problem.

Communication

Solving NIH fits neatly into the communications problem that is often cited as the second most important aspect of a change endeavor. Solving NIH solves both the understanding of where things are going and the conversation about what the impact will be to the employee. The conversations and concerns about the person’s role in the new organization are most frequently addressed, because they feel like they’ve already been a part of the change, so they’ll continue to be a part of it. That’s good news, since the conversations about whether they will be a part of the new structure often require a substantial amount of trust.

Above or Below the Line

In my work on adoption and change over the past few decades, one subtle difference has stood out as being powerful for whether the change would be successful or not. If the required change was inside the person’s normal scope of work, the change would normally take hold. If, on the other hand, the change was something that required additional effort for the person, it rarely worked.

Said differently, if the changes were above the line of requirements – thus not required – they’d be ignored or deferred. If they couldn’t get their job done without it, well, obviously it worked. In information management projects, getting users to enter metadata is always challenging. However, when entering the metadata is a natural part of the work that someone does, it just happens. If on the other hand, you’re asking them to go back later and do something different, special, or additional, it rarely happens.

The required change needs to be seen as a part of the person’s “real work.” If it’s not seen this way, if it’s perceived to be something they do only when they have time, then it’s not likely to get done. Getting folks to accept changed behaviors as a part of their real work is more than changing a job description or telling them, it’s about how they perceive the work.

Change is Personal

All change is personal. All change happens at an organizational level through individual changes at a personal level, and sometimes those changes are hard. Consider the truths from Change or Die, which exposes us to the fact that few people change their eating habits even after a heart attack. Or perhaps you’d prefer to consider The Power of Habit or addiction via Chasing the Scream. Change is hard, because individually changing is hard.

Most executives have come to their level in the organization through a string of successes. Their skills, intuition, and capabilities have led them thus far. The idea of changing them to get better is hard. However, as Marshal Goldsmith says, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. It isn’t always easy to convince folks of this simple truth. They may need to change (and become uncomfortable) to reach the next level.

Putting Things Together in Different Ways

If you consider innovation and transformation back from the Renaissance (see The Medici Effect) to the current age, you’ll find that the key to change was in the ability to connect different ideas. (See Creative Confidence, The Innovator’s DNA, Extraordinary Minds, Beyond Genius, and Group Genius for more on current innovation.) One of the benefits of having a large number of people working on things is that you get extra time for lots of potential combinations and approaches. You can sometimes leverage The Wisdom of Crowds to get to a better answer than would be possible with the leadership alone.

All Effective Strategy Degenerates into Work

One of the largest challenges I see in organizations with their grand strategies is the conversion of those strategies into a series of tactics and, ultimately, actions and behaviors. A strategy that’s beautifully printed and placed in a binder is useless. It’s true that the devil is in the details, and the conversion of the strategy into tactics and tactics into behaviors is hard, grueling work. However, it’s also true that the strategy is useless without it.

The event engages people into practical answers that degenerate more easily into the work that needs to be done, and there are fewer of those “and then the magic happens” spots in the plans. Real people doing real work are really engaged with converting the idea into a reality.

Constant Corrections

No matter how great the strategy work is and regardless of the skill at which it is degenerated into tactics, because the future is unknowable, there will be a need to make constant course corrections and adjustments. What we know about real time strategic change is that it doesn’t end when the event ends. Change needs to become a part of the ethos of the organization. Maybe it’s time to start by reading Real Time Strategic Change.

Book Review-The Effective Change Manager’s Handbook: Essential Guidance to the Change Management Body of Knowledge

Ideally, there’s a body of knowledge that defines a profession. It’s what you should know if you’re a member of the profession. The Effective Change Manager’s Handbook: Essential Guidance to the Change Management Body of Knowledge seeks to be that for change management. While it goes far towards this end, it has the problems that all bodies of knowledge have – too much breadth but not enough depth. It’s a great way to learn about the things that the authors believe you should know but not enough to learn it. It also suffers from the biases of including some things that may not be necessary and missing other critical tools that effective change managers need.

A Tale of Two Organizations

A good starting point for understanding the body of knowledge is understanding that there are two organizations seeking to become “the” change management association that everyone belongs to. There’s The Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) and Change Management Institute (CMI). ACMP is organized out of the US, and CMI is out of the UK. They’re similar in their mission and quite different in their approaches. ACMP has “The Standard,” which identifies the standards that change professionals should understand. It’s not quite as prescriptive as it sounds, but it’s definitely a process-driven model with steps and artifacts.

CMI, on the other hand, is focused on the body of knowledge, which is more of a collection of things than a process or approach. They initially published the body of knowledge as a separate volume before allowing it to get collected up into The Effective Change Manager’s Handbook.

Both organizations offer certification as one would expect, and both offer training, though CMI has chosen to only endorse training from one provider. I personally believe this is a very bad move, because it constricts the industry by limiting the trainers who can become certified to teach about change management. However, both organizations are fundamentally focused on increasing the awareness of the discipline which is a good thing.

A Body of Knowledge

The idea of a body of knowledge was popularized by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and their PMBoK. If you’re Project Management Professional (PMP), then you’re walking around with the PMBoK as a sort of Bible. PMPs are certified by the PMI as project manager. After a few decades, the certification is recognized and has value if you’re looking for work as a project manager.

However, even PMPs will criticize the PMBoK, because it isn’t always practical. Because it has everything in it, it’s too heavy for all but the most massive super projects. Historically, it’s been focused on waterfall-type projects, with one start and one end. It’s also been focused on projects that are more algorithmic and less heuristic. That meant that it didn’t work well for software development projects.

The PMBoK faced real pressure in software development, first with CMMI thinking and more recently with agile (iterative) approaches. It took many years before the PMBoK acknowledged the validity of these approaches.

Thus, there are two problems with a body of knowledge – first that it’s too exhaustive. It’s more than anyone would ever use. Second that it’s non-inclusive: the good practices are excluded for a long time after they’re useful.

In the case of The Change Manager’s Handbook, there’s a lot of the former and only a little bit of the latter.

In Full Bloom

Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues set out to explain a hierarchy of learning objectives. The idea was to come up with a way of explaining and categorizing the differences in approaches to teaching and learning. Though they never really finished, their start was the completion of the cognitive domain of learning. As a result, we have an ordered hierarchy of learning objectives, from the very low-level awareness and recall to the very high-level synthesis and creation of new knowledge in the domain.

Most of the time, educators and learners shoot for somewhere in the middle. They want to be able to apply what they’ve learned and analyze a situation based on their knowledge. However, works on a body of knowledge almost always fall short of this spot. They’ll create awareness, recognition, and sometimes recall, but rarely do they help people apply the learning.

That is the case with The Change Manager’s Handbook. It’s like a listing of the things that you need to learn without the depth or the examples that lead to the ability for someone to apply the information. If you’re looking for an overview of what skills you need as a change manager, it’s great. If you’re looking for a guide for doing further research, it’s good. If you’re looking for something to teach you what you need to know and how to use it so that you can be an effective change manager, well, it’s not so good.

Change Management Successes

It’s been widely quoted that 70% of change management initiatives fail to deliver. (See Leading Change for John Kotter’s take.) With the exception of professional baseball, those statistics are awful. Who wants to think that two out of three change initiatives they work on are going to fail? No one, obviously. That’s what the profession of change management and the development of the body of knowledge is designed to solve.

Some, like William Bridges in Managing Transitions, even suggest that change is the wrong way to think about the initiative. Change doesn’t, he believes, properly recognize the human component and the losses that we encounter, personally. While most people still use the word change rather than transition, the point he makes about change being about people isn’t lost on those who are interested in success.

The size of the initiative had a great deal of impact on the probability of success. The larger the project, the less likely it is to be successful and the greater effort and skill that will be required to make it successful. This is the same as the PMI’s guidance regarding projects. Everyone is clear that the problem of success gets exponentially harder based on the scope and scale of the effort. As a result, one of the big considerations for change management success is how you frame your project and how you break it down, so that you can accomplish a series of smaller changes and build on those wins.

Motivation

To accomplish change, you need to motivate others to join you in the journey of change, and that requires motivation. However, the research on motivation has had a checkered past. Back in 1968, Fredrick Herzberg wrote an article, “One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees?” for the Harvard Business Review. It turns out it’s the most requested article reprint of all time. How can it be that an article with such a snarky title can be so popular? The answer is in the insight Herzberg shared that the things we think of as motivators aren’t all as motivating as we think.

Some things that we think of as motivators Herzberg have an element of what he called “hygiene.” That is, once you had enough of them, the addition of more had little impact. The other aspect was motivation. Each of the things we think of that motivate people are built from these two components. Effective change is knowing which is which. When dealing with a hygiene-based motivator, when do you know how to stop and try different approaches.

It turns out that the go-to motivator of compensation turns out to be mostly a hygiene-based motivator, and salary after a certain point isn’t that powerful a motivator. This aligns with both the work of Kahneman and how we have decreasing utility for increasingly large benefits. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow.) It also aligns with the work of Edward Deci on intrinsic motivation, but Deci goes further to explain how increasing salary can make the behaviors worse.

Intrinsic Motivation

Studying what makes people want to do something is interesting and challenging. Deci ultimately discovered that our intrinsic motivation is driven by our desire for autonomy, mastery, and purpose. These factors drive us towards wanting to do something. However, there’s a challenge: if we apply an extrinsic motivator – like compensation – to something that we’re intrinsically motivated to do, we may find that the intrinsic motivation is stunted. When children were paid to play with a toy that they previously enjoyed playing with – without compensation – they suddenly wanted to play with the toy less when they weren’t compensated.

This has huge implications and obvious evidence all around us, we just have failed to see it. Take, for instance, children. They love to study, and you reward that studying with some sort of monetary compensation for grades. Maybe $1 for an A and $0.50 for a B. The problem is that you’ve now made the motivation dependent on the extrinsic reward. What happens when the reward is taken away? The behavior stops. More challenging is the fact that the long-term pull of the intrinsic motivator may be more powerful than the extrinsic one. Consider Simon Sinek’s recommendation to Start with Why and the power of getting everyone aligned to the same mission.

But what about flow? Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi researched this state of balance between challenge and skill that seemed to be intrinsically rewarding and discovered a set of factors that lead to it – as well as some of the far-reaching effects. Flow is internally rewarding. We don’t do it because others ask us to or that we’re being compensated for it; we enter the state of flow because it’s rewarding. It’s substantially more productive than normal work (5x), and it induces a sense of timelessness. The focus on the task eliminates some of the normal background noise that flows through our head. (See Flow, Finding Flow, and The Rise of Superman for more on flow.)

Ultimately, our goal as change managers shouldn’t be to find the magic external motivators that will allow us to manipulate others into doing what we want them to do, but rather to look towards the goal of how we can align their internal motivators in ways that support them wanting the same things the organization wants. (See both Why We Do What We Do (Deci) and Drive (Daniel Pink) for more on intrinsic motivation.)

Our Views on People

There are two basic views of people. We can either assume that people are lazy and stupid – or we can assume that people are intelligent and hardworking. These correspond to the Theory X and Theory Y of management that we’ve heard about. Historically, most management was designed around the idea that people were lazy and stupid. However, more recently, it has been recognized that this isn’t necessarily the best approach.

Consider, for a moment, the communism vs. capitalism debate that occurred in the 20th century. The Marxist ideas drove the creation of societies based around the idea that everyone was entitled to basic rights and the government was responsible for providing these to everyone. The result was a top-down, centralized hierarchy that depended upon the masses as hands to move and create things, but only those things that the hierarchy told them to make. The problem was that this approach, noble as it was, failed miserably. People were deprived of their drive and creativity, and as a result, there were many economies that were ruined and people who suffered with a lack of essentials because the society couldn’t produce what was needed for everyone. (See One Minute to Midnight for some exposure to this problem.)

The transformation that is happening in business has been gradual but pervasive. Carl Rogers believes that you should have an unconditional positive regard for all people, and that’s hard to do if you fundamentally see them as lazy and stupid. (See A Way of Being.) The list of books I’ve reviewed that have a focus on seeing people differently isn’t short: An Everyone Culture, Reinventing Organizations, Red Goldfish, Leadership for the Twenty-First Century, Seeing Systems, Multipliers, Creativity, Inc., Servant Leadership, and more.

Views on Organizations

While our views on people have changed, at some level, we’re also reconfiguring our views on organizations. We’re starting to look at them less like machines with interchangeable parts and instead we’re looking at them like they’re organisms, brains, cultures, and other structures that describe pieces that come together as a whole – but don’t fit neatly into the kinds of gears and mechanisms you would expect to find in a machine.

However, some of the views of the organization can be troubling. When they’re viewed as psychic prisons or instruments of domination, the resulting expectations don’t lead to good places. There’s a lot that can be said of prisons and Phillip Zimbardo – of the Stanford Prison Experiment fame – describes his perspective in The Lucifer Effect. From a more positive perspective, Amy Edmonson explains in The Fearless Organization how to avoid the kinds of organizations that feel like psychic prisons.

Two Voices

Sometimes the person that sends the message impacts the message that is received more than the words or actions used. When it comes to change, there are two key messages and two key people who need to send the message.

The first message is the strategy and the organization’s vision. This message is best delivered by the executives. It’s believable when delivered by the organization’s executives – it isn’t necessarily believable from a person’s direct manager.

Conversely, what people need to know about their role being okay and how it will change comes from their managers. Anything that the executives say in this regard is perceived to be a platitude that will change just as soon as it’s convenient. Employees need the relational context that they have with their manager to accept the message of safety that may be provided to them. Despite the best intentions, a manager speaking about the overall strategy for the organization isn’t believable, because the employees have seen their best intentions get run over before.

VUCA

In the 1990s, the US military started speaking in terms of VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. We live in that VUCA world. The rate of change isn’t slowing down, by all measures it’s getting faster. It’s not just the changes that you want – it’s the changes that are happening around you.

A set of responses to the VUCA world that we live in were proposed by Bob Johansen and are referred to as VUCA’ (or VUCA Prime, as in inverse derivative): Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility. These are excellent characteristics of your change initiative. Developing a clear vision and communicating clearly based on your collective understanding of the world and the changes is a great start. The agility to adapt as you learn more and as the situation evolves improves your chances for success.

Heroic Leadership

One of the most powerful things that I learned from Heroic Leadership was to separate the important from the unimportant. The Jesuits were clear about their faith and the things that were required of them to remain in their faith. They were equally aware of the customs and rituals that they had grown comfortable with. Knowing how to separate these two proved invaluable as they navigated new worlds.

There are some things inside a change initiative that are going to be non-negotiable. However, most things are open to discussion and exploration. Few things in any change are truly beyond our ability to evaluate.

It Starts with Strategy

The truth is that all change is the response to the environment we find ourselves in. Either we believe that we’re able to take advantage of an opportunity, or we feel the need to mitigate a threat. This response to the environment – or, more likely, the set of responses to the environment – is collectively our strategy for navigating the real world that the organization and we live in.

If you’re going to initiate any kind of a change, you’ll need to understand both the factors that are driving the opportunity or threat and what strategies – or tactics – you believe you need to use to capitalize on the opportunities and mitigate the threats. In short, your change starts with clearly understanding your strategy and the environmental factors that have led you to the proposed approaches.

It’s All About Behaviors

All change is individual change. Organizations change through the actions – behaviors – of its members. There is no changing the organization without changing the behaviors of the members. Thus, all change is individual change. All change is about how you change the behaviors of individuals in ways that creates the kind of change you want to see from the organization. If you’re not converting the big-picture strategies into the individual tasks and behaviors, it’s not very likely that it will be successful.

Transmission

I worked very hard, and when I turned 25, I bought myself a Mitsubishi 3000GTVR4. It was a low, wide, heavy, and, in many ways, amazing car. The engine was 320 horsepower, and it was all wheel drive. It was a monster of a car with a problem. The transmission had a habit of breaking. The torque the engine produced would throw you back in your seat, and in the process, it would weaken and eventually break the drive shaft. The result for me meant more than a few transmission repairs. The engine was fine, the tires were fine, it was just getting the power between the two that was the problem.

This is the key issue that most organizations face. They have a strategy, but they don’t know how to convert it into something that will cause people to change. Some of that can be based on having too few people involved with the development of the strategy and, as a result, a limited amount of buy-in. It can also be caused by unrealistic expectations about how the organization functions.

Whatever the cause, if you can’t convert the strategy to the behaviors, you won’t see change.

The Wisdom of Crowds

One approach to address this transmission problem is to involve a large number of people in the planning process. While this does create challenges about giving everyone space to feel heard and the need to coalesce the responses into a set of key approaches, it has the benefit of substantially increasing buy-in. When done across the organization, you can develop a greater buy-in within the organization. However, you get something more. You get the wisdom of crowds.

If I asked you to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar or the weight of a bull, it’s likely that your guess won’t be exactly right. You’ll overestimate or underestimate. That’s not news. The news is that, as you add more and more people with their individual biases together and you average them, you begin to get to answers that converge on the right answer. Somehow the process of averaging takes the errors and biases out of the process, and the result is better. That’s what happens when we involve more people in our change process. We begin to work past the biases and errors. We move towards a wisdom about the situation that can’t be developed by a single person. (See The Wisdom of Crowds for more.)

Stakeholder Categories

George Egan recommends putting stakeholders into the following groups:

  • Partners are those who support your agenda.
  • Allies are those who will support you given encouragement.
  • Fellow Travellers are passive supporters who may be committed to the agenda but not to you personally.
  • Fence sitters are those whose allegiances are not clear.
  • Loose cannons are dangerous, because they can vote against agendas in which they have no direct interest.
  • Opponents are players who oppose your agenda but not you personally.
  • Adversaries are players who oppose both you and your agenda.
  • Bedfellows are those who support the agenda but may not know or trust you.
  • Voiceless are stakeholders who will be affected by the agenda but have little power to promote or oppose and who lack advocates.

I prefer a slightly different categorization process based on power, urgency, and legitimacy, but this approach encourages you to more deeply consider and understand your stakeholders and whether they collectively bring you what you need to accomplish your objectives with the change.

Control and Manipulation

In Compelled to Control, J. Keith Miller explains that we all want to control, but none of us want to be controlled. This is a fundamental understanding of our human condition. We want to perceive a great deal of control of our situation and a low degree of others controlling us. As we seek to involve more people, develop their buy-in, and engage them, we must be conscious both of their need to feel a degree of control but also in the degree to which they perceive that they’re being manipulated.

We are all manipulated. An easy example is the fact that almost all of us wear seatbelts. No one thinks that wrinkled clothing and confinement is good, but we’ve been conditioned to accept these things so that our chances of injury or death during an accident are reduced. We’re being manipulated into the behaviors that the government wants with laws and advertising campaigns. It’s not that the reasons aren’t the right reasons or that we shouldn’t wear our seatbelts – we absolutely should. However, we need to recognize this for what it is. It’s a manipulation of our basic behavior while driving and riding in a car, and it’s a manipulation that we’ve accepted.

Put the Song on Repeat

The process of manipulation was subtle. It was the same message played over and over again punctuated by changes. This process of manipulation can be done for both good and evil. Albert Bandura in Moral Disengagement explains how Nazi Germany made the unthinkable not just something to be considered but something to be done. It wasn’t just one message that the Jews weren’t humans, it was the same message over and over again.

In our corporate change worlds, we like to believe that we can tell people once and that’s enough. They read their email, we think. They’ll see the posters. The truth is, however, that our communications are far less effective than we’d like to believe. The Organized Mind explains how our brains are trying to cope with the amount of information that we’re getting, and for the most part, we’re doing it by filtering. If we can’t get through the filter, then there’s no chance of anyone changing their perception (or even awareness).

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

It’s an old cliché, but it’s true. A picture, or more precisely a diagram, is worth a thousand words. The ability to convey visually what the new organization will look like and what the behaviors are that will be required is extremely valuable. It’s more than an updated organizational chart. It’s about what life will really be like. It’s a way of engaging emotions into topics that are sometimes dry, abstract, and analytical.

The simple addition of visuals to your change messaging can make them feel more personal and friendly. Careful selection of a metaphor can provide some continuity to the discontinuity of change.

Making Use of Micro Signals

During change, people will need more affirmation and confirmation that their behaviors match the new trajectory of the organization. For that reason, small acknowledgements of the progress that is being made to transform the organization is critical to reinforcing the new behaviors and helping to establish them as new habits.

Accentuating “bright spots,” those places where people are exhibiting the best of the new behaviors, help others understand that they want to replicate these behaviors. In the book Switch, Dan and Chip Heath make the point that following the bright spots can help people make a change much easier than simply guiding them away from the things they should not do.

The Importance of Learning

The importance of learning as a far leading indicator was made by Richard Hackman in Collaborative Intelligence, but its use as a tool for change is sometimes overlooked. We forget that new behaviors mean new learning, and the more that we can instill learning into the culture of the organization, the more agile the organization will be. Learning is a powerful force when lined up with the compounding nature of sustained effort.

Einstein said that compounding interest was the 8th Wonder of the World, but it’s not just financial interest that compounds; learning and our ability to learn compounds as well. The more we’re willing to focus on our performance and seek to improve it, the more our performance will improve. Anders Ericson and Robert Pool explain in Peak that it’s purposeful practice that makes the difference to our long-term success. The more willing and persistent we are at practicing towards specific goals, the more likely we’ll be at the peak of our industry. (For the persistence aspect, see Angela Duckworth’s Grit.)

The Hawthorne Works are famous for the Hawthorne effect. That is, measuring people – not the actual change being measured – is responsible for improvement. However, this obscures the truth that people are focused on their performance because they know they are being watched. This pushes them into purposeful practice and an attempt to improve their performance. That focus does increase their performance even when the conditions deteriorate (like the lighting being turned down).

When you sustain the perception of monitoring and a desire for improvement over a long period of time, the improvements become staggering. In The Rise of Superman, Steven Kotler explains that even a 4% increase over a long period of time makes it appear that what the person is doing should be impossible.

Our View of the Problem is the Problem

When we’re evaluating why our change initiatives haven’t been successful, it’s important to accept the realization that our view of the problem – the change itself or the problem the change is designed to address – is the problem. The better we understand a problem and the more we know, the more equipped we are to potentially solve the problem. That’s the reason why it might be a good idea to read The Change Manager’s Handbook.

Book Review-The Leadership Machine

There’s an old I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Edith are workers at a chocolate factory, and they can’t keep up, so they start eating the chocolates and stuffing them in their clothes. Laverne and Shirley are standing in front of an assembly line in the opening starting with a slow pace and ending with a rather overwhelming pace. The idea of an assembly line is neither foreign to me personally nor, I think, to most people. However, most people don’t think of talent development or leadership development as an assembly line. However, this is the perspective of The Leadership Machine.

It’s called a talent development pipeline, but that only thinly veils the perspective that you start young professionals in one end of the machine, and out the other end of the machine is supposed to pop out highly skilled and qualified leaders. There are so many problems and breakdowns in most organizations’ leadership machines. The Leadership Machine seeks to both address the common breakdowns and to lead you towards building your own leadership development pipeline.

One Size Fits All

If you’re a small or even medium-sized organization, you may think that you don’t have much of a machine for finding, developing, and retaining employees. You may believe that you have little capacity to build the kind of sustainable infrastructure that’s required to make the system work, and you may more importantly be concerned about how you manage the short-term demands on your business that may make an effort in such a long-term program pointless. Certainly, there’s truth to this when taken to the extreme. Smaller organizations cannot afford to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars training people hoping they stay with the company after the investment has been made and the employee can contribute.

However, there is a way to leverage the learning from a big system and integrate the best parts into smaller organizations. It’s possible to use the work that has been done to identify and categorize key skills to refine your thinking about positions and what they need to be good at – even in organizations that aren’t that large.

Talent Development

It gets a bad rap. In many organizations, talent development inside an organization is seen as boring, ineffective training that is required. Too many talent development organizations are stuck delivering mandatory OSHA and sexual harassment training – and not enough of the kind of leadership development training that makes a real difference. (Hopefully, they’re delivering on anti-sexual harassment training, but that’s another story.) Because of this, most managers and leaders don’t even think to approach their talent development team with the kinds of skills building necessary to build tomorrow’s leaders of the organization.

This gulf between the tactical execution of mandatory training and the kinds of leadership development training that’s possible is something worth crossing for both the business and the talent development professional.

Seeking Skills Models

If you want to develop anything, you need to know what you’re shooting for. You need to know what’s important to the organization and, by extension, what isn’t. There are so many skills that can be trained, how do you focus your limited time and resources on the skills that are going to matter? Of course, there are some variations to every organization, but in truth, leadership is the same across organizations. The skills that make a leader good in one organization are likely going to make them good in another organization. That’s why Lombardo and Eichinger don’t recommend that you reinvent the wheel. They recommend a model called Leadership Architect® developed by the Center for Creative Leadership. A summary of the model (pulled from the book) follows:

With a model for skills in place, it’s important to understand the number and types of skills needed both in general and specific to roles or levels in the organization.

Number of Skills

The answer, in terms of what skills should the ideal leader have, is always answered with “All of them;” however, as the outline implies, there are more skills than anyone can be reasonably expected to excel at – or even to be proficient at. Instead, the leader needs a basic toolkit, with deep skills in a few areas and no deficiencies in others that are barriers to their career advancement.

They break down skills into groupings:

  • Price-of-Admission – These skills are necessary for and expected of everyone, so they won’t help differentiate candidates in the talent pipeline.
  • Competitive Edge – These skills deliver differentiation between average performers and high performers.
  • Competitive Edge by Level – These skills differ by level in the organization, with some skills being needed by managers but not by executives and vice versa.
  • Competitive Edge for Superior Performance – These skills seem to only be found in superior performers at any level of the organization.

The answer to the number of competitive edge skills by level seems to be 5 skills for managers and 8 skills for executives, but the tricky part is that the skills aren’t all the same.

Better Hiring

One of the things you might expect from a book about how to develop a leadership machine (or a leadership pipeline); however, the view is more organic. The expectation is that there is so much competition for the best people that, if you want to develop a pipeline of leaders, you had better plan to do it yourself rather than hire it from the market.

Competitively, the best (read: most expensive) offers go to the candidates who show the highest GPAs – or at least meet some arbitrary GPA cutoff. There are not enough of these candidates to go around, and the demand has driven the cost up. A better investment, supported by research, is to build effective training programs that allow you to develop the leadership skills through your internal development process.

Effective training programs aren’t all in the classroom or online. Effective training programs are designed to nurture the candidates through challenging them appropriately. Nicholas Taleb in Antifragile explains how we need challenges and how the right challenges at the right intensity with the right recovery time make us stronger. The training programs we develop internally should progressively challenge candidates without overwhelming them or pushing them too hard – and that is very hard to do.

Returning to Defaults

Left to our own devices, we’ll fall back on a few of our core strengths – things that we learned during our journey into adulthood or soon after we entered the corporate world. These strengths are great until they’re misapplied or applied too much. When these core skills come out, it can be a sign that someone is under too much stress. The result of the application of these skills are problems rather than solutions, because even executing on skills that you’re good at when you’re supposed to be doing something else is a bad thing.

In our office, I have a real, full-sized stoplight. It’s just to the right of my desk and it’s a constant and visible reminder that just because I can do something (I have the skill or capability) doesn’t mean I should do it (it’s the right thing). “Can do” aren’t green lights, they’re yellow. If I’m exceptionally good at crafting introductory language and start to sink my teeth into it, it could mean that I’m addressing something that requires finesse for a high-profile client. Conversely, it might mean that I’m avoiding a difficult personnel discussion that I need to have – perhaps with the person who should be doing this work. When I’m doing something I can do – but shouldn’t – I’m depriving myself, my team, and my world of the more challenging or rare skills that I’m being asked to execute on.

The Secret of Success

It’s learning. It’s learning how to learn. It’s learning how to hunger for additional skills. When Stan Lee put the call out for people to become the next superhero in a comic and on the big screen, he got a lot of entries. People wanted to see their personal brand of superhero come to life. Most of the superhero ideas were duds, but one was just unique enough. The character Domino had the capability to influence luck. The degree to which this is played out in Deadpool 2 is ridiculous, even by superhero movie standards – but it represents an intriguing argument. What skill – like the ability to influence luck – would be more useful than anything else?

While none of us can influence luck, we can influence learning. The ability to learn and the world of information that we live in today means nothing is out of reach for someone ingrained with the metaskill of learning. It’s not quite as slick as downloading new skills into someone’s brain, like they did in The Matrix, but it is the ability to expand beyond the normal limits of humanity.

Learning is Risky Business

Everyone wants to know the secret of success, and here it is – be continuously learning. It’s simple. However, most people don’t do it. Why? Because learning is risky business. It means you must admit that you’re making mistakes and you’re vulnerable. It means you must admit that you don’t have all the answers, and in most business situations today, that’s risky.

Showing vulnerability is inherently risky, because the person you exposed the vulnerability to may choose to exploit it (or at least try). However, learning is risky for another, more profound reason. Learning allows you to change your world view, and in doing so may threaten everything that you believe. So, when it comes to the key to success, the answer is simple but not easy. It takes courage to stay focused on learning, even when it might hurt.

High Performer but not Highest

If you wanted to predict the best leaders in your organization ten years from now, who would you choose? Would you choose those with the absolute highest performance for the last quarter or the last year? Obviously, you want successful performers, but do you want the absolute top performers? Curiously, the answer is no. What you want are solid performers who are making long-term investments in their learning and development.

Richard Hackman, in Collaborative Intelligence, explains how he measures the effectiveness of teams on multiple levels, and short-term performance is the simplest but poorest predictor of long-term performance. The highest level is learning and growth. The same is true for individuals. If they’re focused only on short-term results, they’ll be a brighter star than their peers at the expense of their long-term performance.

Ideally, if you’re looking to find your highest potential future leaders, you’ll look for someone who has learned to balance short-term results with long-term development. If they can do this in themselves, they’ll likely be able to deliver this balance as a leader.

Agility

There has a been a greater focus on the idea of agility as the world seems to be changing more rapidly than ever before. Entire industries are under siege from startups with a new way of doing things. The venerable Kodak lost its hold on the photography market during the digital disruption of digital cameras that ironically, they helped to create. Taxi companies are struggling against Lyft and Uber. The automobile and energy industries have been confronted with the fact that electric cars are becoming a reality and both industries are trying to determine how they’ll cope.

Sometimes agility is couched on the language of innovation. If we just learn how to innovate, we’ll leapfrog the competition. This neglects the reality of Kodak’s situation. They demonstrated innovation in the introduction of digital cameras but were ultimately overcome by the reality of an organization too married to chemical photographic processes to fully adapt to the new electronic world.

Learners are agile because of their capacity to connect diverse ideas and to pull from different places to create new combinations of solutions that can be applied to their company and their industry.

Career Freedom Option Accounts

On the one hand, you’ll hear that you should do something that you love, and you’ll never have a day’s work in your life. On the other hand, you hear that you’ll have to pay your dues. You’ll have to keep your nose to the grindstone and work for years before you start to enjoy the fruits of your labor. How can both be true?

The answer lies in flow. Flow is the high-performance psychological state that balances challenge and skill that is itself rewarding. (See Flow, Finding Flow, and The Rise of Superman for more about flow.) In flow, you’re working hard, and you’re not really seeing the rewards in the tangible sense, but the intrinsic rewards are enough to keep you going. (See Why We Do What We Do for more on intrinsic rewards.) Still, this doesn’t mean if you can’t find flow and find the intrinsic rewards that you should immediately quit your job; you should first check your career freedom options.

The choices we make in terms of learning, persistence, and savings can help us drive up the balance in our career freedom accounts. The more skills be have (learning), the more results we can demonstrate (persistence), and the more resources (savings) we have, the greater the opportunities for us to safely quit our current career and start another career that may be more appealing for its intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

Someone who is an accomplished carpenter and an accomplished plumber clearly has more options than someone who has only one or the other of these skills. When they decide they want to do something new or work for someone new, they can make the leap quickly and easily. Someone who fails to finish high school and has no specific skills is stuck working entry level jobs in manufacturing or service. They can’t afford (figuratively) to make a change, even if they don’t like their current situation.

Someone who didn’t finish high school, college, a trade school, or anything that grants a certificate of completion (which is what a diploma is) isn’t in a position to provide any marker of their value to a new perspective company or client. Without these markers of persistence, many organizations won’t give you a chance.

You’ve probably heard about the people who retire in their 40s. They’ve saved enough money that they don’t have to work any longer. The interest on their savings are enough to cover their modest needs, and as a result they’re not going to work. They’re going to spend their time doing what they want. At some level, we’re all trying to do this. We’re looking to acquire enough assets that we can make the absolute decision to walk away from working. Whether we call that retirement or FU money, the goal is to be able to have ultimate freedom in our careers including what we do and don’t do.

The War for Talent

While the market changes due to COVID-19 may make the war for talent a thing of the past for a time, the fundamental issue remains unchanged. The war for talent is framed in the perspective of not enough people. However, that framing is fundamentally flawed. It’s not that we don’t have enough people to do the work. The reality is that we don’t have enough skilled and persistent people to do the work.

The challenge isn’t one of absolute numbers but rather ratios of the number of people who are occupying the planet and the percentage of those that possess the skills that we need for the positions that we have created. Certainly, we need to try to create positions in ways that minimize the depth and diversity of skills required to increase the chances that we can find people to fit the role, but we must simultaneously find ways to encourage the development of skills. This includes not just access to the tools necessary to develop the skills but also the tools of motivation to create a desire for people to learn those skills.

People Development

The sad fact is that only 7% of managers are held accountable for the development of their people, according to a McKinsey study. In a world of management by objectives, dashboards to hit, and a continuing increase in the general pressure, developing the people under your care gets lost in the shuffle. (See Servant Leadership for more on the idea of the people you lead being under your care.) Because it’s not measured, it’s not happening.

In my personal world, I can tell you that I left my corporate job and started Thor Projects because I felt like I wasn’t receiving career development. My journey since then has been eclectic, but it’s been good. I know that I didn’t know what I was doing for my career development – and still don’t. It would have been good to have someone who has been through the challenges that I was and am facing, who could guide me through developing the skills that I need to be successful, but sadly that almost never happens in an organization.

Whether your organization is good about your development or not, you can take your own steps to become a leader by reading The Leadership Machine.