Thursday, October 30, 2014

As Culture Eats Strategy, Action Eats Fear!

So we are most all familiar with the famous Peter Drucker quote "Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”. He posits that much good strategy is thwarted by organizational cultures which fights and kills strategies they are uncomfortable with. We know it takes great skill and persistence to shepard innovative strategies through the organization's cultural gauntlets. 

Lately I have been experimenting with a variation on this theme, "Action Eats Fear for (you insert the meal)". :-) In this context, action is the proxy of strategy and fear, of culture.  

Being on sabbatical, I have more time than usual to be plagued and paralyzed by fearful feelings and thoughts. I have found though that when tempted to bog down in this paralysis, “skillful" action is a reliable antidote. As with myself, so with organizations where we often see that in the face of uncertainty, organizations succumb to a "sickness of fear”, a topic my good colleague Bill Drummy recently called to our attention in a TEDMED recap blog post

In situations where we are experiencing a sickness of fear, we are not so much at fault for being inactive as for being unskillful in the actions we take. This is a conundrum as skillful action is often the child of unskillful action that we learn from. This pondered, a good addition to my original premise is that while Action may eat Fear in the short term, Educated Action breeds Success over the longer term. :-D

David Allen’s (of Getting Things Done fame) Next Action is a good practice to execute this Action Eats Fear strategy. Forgetting about the fear of what could go wrong and what resource is lacking, I find that taking the Next Action is like a lit candle which pushes back the darkness of fear. In each Next Action, one more step toward a goal is accomplished, and hopefully learned from. 

I am also finding that sometimes the best Next Action is one of (relative) non-action, taking a nap, sitting in meditation, going for a walk or writing an encouraging note to a colleague who inadvertently crossed my mind. This non-acting action often unblocks the flow of creativity and courage that fear blocks. 

So as Culture Eats Strategy, let’s also remember that Action Eats Fear and be skillful in how we confront to get the change we are working on in the world, however we define it.

Bon app├ętit! 

Monday, March 17, 2014

5th in a Series on Change: Tempered Radicalism by Meyerson

So this article gave me the name for a role I relish but did not have a name for, Tempered Radical! Nice! 

tempered radical is "an informal leader who quietly challenges prevailing wisdom and provokes cultural transformation”. They:

1. "rock the boat without falling out” 
2. leverage their differentness in the organization for constructive change 
3. effect significant change over time through moderate, local, diffuse, (in)visible, flexible, persistently patient means. 
4. walk the fine line of dedication to the company (status quo) and change. 
5. work largely alone, but are savvy at uniting others
6. listen and converse to bring people around rather than pressing their own agenda
7. see potential friends where most others see embattled foes
8. set an example from which others can learn   

On describing the characteristics of tempered radicals, and I hope you see yourself here, the author talks about the tempered radical’s tactics along a continuum from the personal to the public. 

1. disruptive self expression, most personal means, where one quietly acts in ways disrupts expectations and improves performance
2. verbal jujitsu, where one redirects negative statements & actions into positive change
3. variable term opportunism, where one is open and ready to capitalize on unexpected opportunities for short-term change and to orchestrating deliberate long-term change
4. strategic alliance building, the most public means, whereby clout is gained by working with allies, and especially in the form of opponents, who are "often their best sources of support and resources”.

I love the author’s allusion to the tempered radical’s effect as, “like steady drops of water, they gradually erode granite”.

May we all see our potential as tempered radicals to effect the change we desire in the world. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

4th in a Series on Change: Survival Guide for Leaders by Heifetz & Linsky

This article especially resonated as the right leaders must survive if we are to survive.  Our survival is threatened when too many shy away from leadership because they are afraid they cannot, or will not survive. 

The author talks about leadership as “living dangerously”. The leader is always subject to being taken out, removed or set aside, thus the need for such a guide. 

The author asks us to remember that the hazard of leadership which is leaders are asking followers to give up what is dear to them. This was a slap in the side of the head for me! Though true, I had never thought about it this way. As a result, I cultivate new compassion for those we are asking to lead change. I cultivate like compassion for those who undercut change in the name of order, familiarity, security and protection. The author admonishes leaders to pay close attention to the losses, dashed expectations and feelings of incompetence and disloyalty their staff struggle with as part of change. This attention is critical to empathic leadership which balances tough calls with acknowledgment of pain and loss.

I really dug the distinction the author makes between technical change (involving objects and processes) and adaptive change (involving people and their mindsets & practices). The latter is the more challenging and that most change projects fail as they mistake adaptive, for technical, change. We go for the easier task of changing the technical and paying too little attention to how the more challenging human element.
The author goes on to talk about the common hazards change leaders face, and must be equipped to address if they are to survive. They are:

1. Character or style attacks as these are often effective (for the opposition)  as a distraction from the issue or opportunity at hand

2. Marginalization where the leader is so identified with a narrow set of issues that their broader authority is undermined  

3. Seduction by need for approval which causes the leader to hedge on asking for sufficient sacrifice and accountability from their followers and stakeholders

4. Diversion due to overwhelm with too many, or too disparate, priorities which is effective in diluting focus and critical mass of effort.

As leaders we all struggle with these hazards and have or are being threatened by them all the time. 

The author contends that resisting sabotage requires environmental management and self management. One might term these the outer and the inner game.

Environmental Management, or the outer game, involves:

1. Operating in and above the fray where the leader is both able to be in the situation as participant, and apart from it as observer, providing the ability to simultaneously act in and upon the change situation. 

2. Courting the uncommitted where the leader is influential in bring people along and around to the change they envision. I especially like the authors suggestion that leader have coffee weekly with their detractors. Talk about jumping into the lion’s jaws rather than avoiding it.

3. Cooking the conflict where the leader wisely gauges the organization’s need for turned up heat to get action, versus a cool down period to avoid burn out or burn up

4. Placing work where it belongs where the leader leaves problem resolution and opportunity capitalization to the troops, and avoids an over-reliance on leadership and the corresponding contempt it can engender. Ultimately, the leader has to move people to take up the message without being the assassinated messenger. 

Self Management, or the inner game, involves:
1. Restraining the need for control and importance in order to avoid ego trip(up)s and instead facilitate structure and process that channel energy into change.

2. Self-anchoring with:
     a) psychological repair & moral recalibration which acknowledged that the leadership game by its nature inflicts wounds and erodes one’s moral compass, the effects of which we see regularly in the news.
     b) a confidant to maintain external perspective and accountability, and
     c) role detachment so that the leader understands that the role of leader is just that, and not one’s true self.

The author asserts that leadership tempts one to become insulated from life with cynicism, arrogance and callousness, and that observing these points of management are ways to engage as a leader while avoiding this latter fate. I love the author's rubric which encourages daily reflection, repair, renewal and recalibration in every leader.

Upon reading this article, one might be tempted to avoid leadership because of its multiple risks but the author asserts that the risk is worth it for the reward of the positive difference that leaders stand to bring into the world. In other words, “no pain, no joy”.

May we all survive well as leaders, and support our leader's survival as followers.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

3rd in a Series on Change Management: Why People Won't Change

In my reading of the Harvard Business Review article, The "Real Reason People Won’t Change” by Kegan & Lahey, I came across this concept of “change immunity”. The insight is that "commitment conflict? is why people resist and even fights change. It is less that they are fighting change than that they are being true to their current commitments. Can’t blame people for that. In fact you can even respect them for it. That said, such immunity can cause damage when change is resisted in lieu of the obsolete status quo. By the way, a "competing commitment" is a subconscious hidden goal that conflicts with stated commitments. 

For me this is a new insight and a caution not to take other’s resistance to change personally. This is not about me. It really is about them and their commitment. This new insight accepted, the question becomes what can be done about it. The authors espouse a challenging 3 step process that can be used to overcome “change immunity”. Here is a summation of it and please read the article for better details.

1) Diagnose the Competing Commitment where there is an examination of: a) the change we state we want, b) the commitment required  to realize the stated change, c) the undermining behaviors that are disabling the stated change, d) an imagining of performing the  commitment (from b) along with an observation of the thinking, (uncomfortable) feeling & actions this calls up, and e) an examination of the worrisome outcome we are working to prevent when we engage in undermining behaviors. This “aha” insight contains the "BIG Assumption".  

2) Identify the Big Assumption, that generates our competing commitment. Do so by creating a sentence which inverts the competing commitment and reveals what we are really afraid of. For instance, I have a commitment to publish a book and on doing this exercise realize that publishing a book conflicts with my commitment to assuring that I do not make a “public" mistake. This explains why the book is still not published. Realization of this assumption helps as knowing what my conflicting commitment is, I can better choose to choose a more important commitment. Big assumptions are so difficult to identify and forsake because they “create a disarming and deluding sense of certainty”, and certainty is where its at, until its not. 

3) Test & Replace the Big Assumption where one confirms, via direct experience, how much their Big Assumption is unconsciously controlling their behavior, and deliberately plans alternate behavior which support their stated commitment.

The author further makes the point that groups are as susceptible to commitment conflict as individuals. As you can imagine, getting individuals to work through this process is tough enough so getting groups through it is exponentially grueling, but fortunately not impossible.

To lend proper perspective, the author notes that this process takes several hours to work through and a long time to ultimately act on in terms of reversing the undermining behaviors which support the status quo.

The author acknowledges that “bringing these issues to the surface  and confronting them head-on is challenging and painful-yet tremendously effective. Ultimately this process is about "understanding the complexities of people’s behavior, guiding them through a productive process to bring their competing commitments to the surface, and helping them cope with the inner conflict that is preventing them from achieving their goals.”

Good stuff and goodness help us in applying it for ourselves and our organizations.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

2nd in a Series on Change Management: Howard Jacobson’s Career Capital & Averted Loss

As a part of this series on insights from the literature on ChangeManagement, I want to share an insight related to change resistance as a form of prudent "career capital" investment, retained control and averted loss. These ideas came from a presentation, "Driving Change: A Marketing Model", I saw at the Fall 2013 Digital Health Coalition Summit by Howard Jacobson, PhD of Vitruvian. 

In this deck, he does a great job of recasting my view of change resistance from mere fear to additional views like: 1) career capital investment, 2) retained control and 3) averted loss.

The key resonant idea he talks about in his presentation is career capital, a resource we have all worked to accumulate over time and which we are loath to invest unless we are sure of a positive return. When viewed this way, stakeholder slowing down and resisting change makes sense, as it allows time for “loss aversion”, a great term the author uses, and helps the perception of retained control. One might even say that change is irresponsible if it does not come with sufficient proof of positive outcomes in these areas.

I know that as change leaders, I often am not seeing it this way. I realize I might make more progress, and better business cases, if I empathized with how my stakeholders perceive change in these ways. This insight cautions me to be more patient, persistent, thorough (and curiously courageous, as the author calls for) in how I plan and conduct my interactions with those I'm asking change of.

On reflection, it also causes me to be mindful of the ways in which I resist, and sometimes even work against change, in those cases where I believe, usually unconsciously, that change is a loss of control and a negative investment of my own career capital. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

1st in a Series on Change and Its Management, or what I learned from HBR on Change Management

As part of my regular saw sharpening, I decided to read the "HBR 10 Must Reads on Change Management" recently. It is truly 10 of the best articles I have read on the subject and I highly recommend it. 

It was both encouraging and discouraging to read. It demonstrated that change can be managed, ( I rather say shaped, sheparded and guided) but not without great patience, persistence, discipline, savviness and a touch of luck. As a change manager myself, I am newly challenged, encouraged and committed upon this read so much so that I am going to write a series of blogs about what I have learned for both my remembering and executing. In all these reading the three most resonant points that came out were that change:

1) is a continuous process and when you think you are done, you are only transitioning to some new phase which hopefully continues in the direction you were working on and not some other.

2) requires self change and care if you want to survive it well and be the authentic force it requires in order to occur successfully, and

3)  is more easily opposed and thwarted than achieved, thus change management is not for the faint of heart, or weak of constitution.

As I consider the change we are working to shepard in our own conservative organizations, these readings brought home the fact that our own lack of knowledge, savviness and discipline in approaching change execution has hurt us, and I hope these writings will help to remedy some of that.

I will write about my insights from these readings over several  posts, as a series, so stand by.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Reframe: "Being Let Go" or "Being Let Forward"?

A while ago I did a talk on “Branding for Mid Career Professionals” for a group of mid-career executives who had recently been let go from their jobs, something I can empathize with as having been in this same chair. 

In the midst of this discussion, I had an intuitive reframe when I used the term, “being let go”. The reframe was that “being let go” can, with a twist of perspective, be reframed as “being let forward”. (Caveat: I say this soberly with respect for how serious and traumatic being let go can be.) 

The a-ha of this reframe for me, and I will only speak about me, is that I know that when I was let go, I was in a state of extreme attachment to the script, mental map, culture and routine of the company I had worked for for a number of years. This attachment, while comforting and seemingly secure, was also holding me back in some areas of my development. Certainly, I would have preferred to have continued my development in this company but on reflection, I realize that they letting me go was an opportunity for me to be let forward in terms of my personal growth. In the decade since that letting go, I see that I have grown more by way of this separation than if it had not happened.

The point here is that if we can stay with our current companies we probably should and will, but when we do not have a choice, and increasingly we do not, see the "letting go" as an opportunity of being "let forward" is a valuable and energizing reframing that can do us more good than not.

I hope this reframe will be useful to you someday, but not any day soon.