Questions, obviously, are the forte’ of a consultant.
They reveal information.
They shine a light on perspective.
They help build arguments.
They are the basis for descriptions for communication.
For myself they eventually become End State descriptions.
Questions can have a hidden power.
Changing Behavior with Questions
Let’s say we have a senior leader, maybe the owner of some big change, who tends to talk a lot, listen rarely and come to conclusions (and oh forbid even strategy) by speaking out loud.
As a consultant do you just let them talk and hope you can steer the conversation?
Do you use the power of the question for that steering?
And if so does that do anything more than reaffirm what that leader was going to “talk themselves” (and you, but whatever, they are not likely interested in that outcome) into anyway?
Here is your exercise for that:
Ask questions that force them to listen to themselves talking.
Look to make them explain the path their talking is taking them on. That might steer the conversation or not.
You are looking for them to get forced into (or voluntarily) ask YOU questions.
If this happened over a short period of time with you getting more and more creative in the way you ask the questions their first question to you is a behavior change.
Ask a question and no matter how much you like your own voice you will HAVE to listen (at least a little).
Behavior change #2 you will be looking for is their question that is obviously to themselves (the kind we make inside our own heads). If or when you get that you have gotten to the level where they are not only listening to themselves, but also to what their words may sound like (as in how someone else might hear them).
Behavior change #3 is when they ask you to give them feedback. Obviously that means they are willing to listen to someone else now.
This may take the length of an exchange (as in months). Or in rare circumstances with an empathetic and talented consultant in one or few conversations. Consultants do have the power of being expected to consult. As with any change (even at the individual level like this) be ready with an explanation of why. In this case the why you attempted this behavior change may be because now it appears no one listens to the executive (oh they let that person talk away though). The why may be something more empathetic. Maybe you really see this persons possibilities and you REALLY see the obstacles they, themselves have created. Your why could be a what if.
What if you, leader, heard your own voice, asked for the voice of others and heard them as well. What would THAT End State look like?
Heather Stagl over at Enclaria has a nice succinct post listing, “Four Reasons Leaders Need Change Agents”.
She didn’t mention external or internal although did say, “When there are people in your organization who are dedicated change agents…”. That still does not indicate internal or external. I will save that discussion for my next post.
The Four Reasons:
Heather’s post stands on its own, but, of course, I see some add-ons and twists of thought that might be helpful in the interest of never-taking-things-at-face-value and always-digging-just-a-little-deeper, for knowledge and understanding.
Heather’s take was feedback as a form of crisis protection-recovering from the “cringe-worthy” were her words.
How about feedback as insurance?
Experience in 70 different cultures with four or five times as many leaders, for me, makes it pretty easy to predict what will happen when certain things are done and said. If this change agent to leader relationship is trusting and equal then discussion will reveal potential smart moves and not so smart moves.
Feedback requires something to have happened. Planning and strategy conversations always have an element of the past (can’t predict outcomes without comparison). Those past elements are a perfect time for change agent feedback. That kind is easy because the “crisis” has passed and the discussion may just prevent the next.
All change requires mediation.
This is a crucial role and competency for change agents.
My add here is that is can be very beneficial for the mediating change agent to “pretend” a perspective and then make an argument for it. If they are really good they can do it twice for both sides of the discussion. Complete neutrality isn’t always the most effective approach.
I personally have never liked the, “I hear what you are saying… blah, blah, blah” form of mediation. Sometimes the change agent needs to insert refined opinion into exchanges. (The added bonus is that others- leaders- get taught how to make arguments that can be heard).
Transparency because of lack of authority was Heather’s take.
Back to that trusted partner relationship between the leader and the change agent, my add- the addition of a conduit for information.
Stakeholders love and cling to anyone who represents the owner of the change. If a change agent can walk the fine line of representing the owner without jeopardizing that leader or the change, information can fly back and forth.
In terms of communication adept change agents can quickly flatten the organization. (I have always thought that is the element that drives project managers crazy- we are able to make things happen quickly because we step right past political obstacles).
We understand informal communication which can be the underlying foundation of change or the liquid soil that is a sink hole waiting to happen.
Change agent ability and competency transfers through the organization is Heather’s take.
This is true and most applicable at the tactical level. I have always thought change agents at a tactical level are simply teaching, modeling and mentoring the learning of leadership skills (that we used to have and that companies used to pay to have). Capability when it comes to change is about competency and experience. Change agents bring the experience and can teach competency.
My add is that change agents (especially multi-organization externals) bring a capability that the organization does not, and arguably cannot, have internally. We often make it OK to temporarily go around internal politics and OK to call out organizational root causes. When a light is shone on politics and root causes, capability increases geometrically (pretty darn fast).
The chance for: feedback, neutrality, communication and capability follow a change agent everywhere they go.
Change = +
It seems practitioners and some “thought leaders” like to talk about what change takes away.
That has always seemed a little strange to me.
Change Adds not takes away.
What Change Adds
There is no change without the stakeholders learning something new.
“They are going to resist this training”.
Maybe if we just changed the label from training to learning change would get easier (and more fun)?
Change should be an opportunity to learn new things. Maybe that is technology (the closest to training). Maybe some soft skills have to be added or enhanced. Maybe the learning is about the organization and its connections. Maybe there is something to be gained/learned from external input?
You can’t have change without interaction.
Even the lone individual pursuit of learning to play an instrument will likely entail a trip to the music store.
Change really is interaction.
Yes it is interaction different from the current version.
Would people around you say you are hopping, skipping and smiling to get to your current version of interaction?
And who says you can’t take some or most of that with you to the end state (and add some new hopping, skipping, smiling interaction)?
It is possible to have truly transformative change that is entirely future/end-state focused.
Since people are people though it is hard to make big changes without looking inward and back.
Change forces assessment, analysis, comparison, critique, facts and realistic retrospection.
You want to make sure what you add makes sense.
And yes you want to make sure there is room (sometimes something has to be taken away to add) for the change.
Retrospection that illuminates strengths and then takes that into the end state is re-adding right?
A new tool is not a change.
Change is not about tools.
But most change has a tool addition.
I have been on a couple of social media initiatives lately that had stakeholders fighting to be the guinea pigs for new tools (SharePoint, Yammer, training tools etc.).
New tools rarely address all concerns. And new tools require genuine skill based training.
New tools always have positive additions. You can find them if you look past the changes in process.
Tools always seems to be one or the other though. The emphasis on replacement, as in “end of life”, makes calling out the positive “adds” difficult.
I know the most painful part of change.
I see it in the eyes of “resistant” stakeholders.
I can feel when it starts and builds.
It is being forced, or having to, look at things in a different way.
It baffles me that is not a fun exercise.
If the change process is good, perspective should be addressed from the beginning. Which means there will be a chance to blend current perspective with that of the journey and the end state. If fact if the end state is not the old perspective with some new additional tweaks the change will not stick.
Change is about Adding (as opposed to the opposite). Change adds learning, interaction, retrospective, tools and perspective. Are you communicating that?
I think I found the true role of a change management practitioner.
They are the Messenger.
Whether it is high or low, transformational or transactional, the most visible role (duty for internals) is to relay information back and forth.
This explains why a lot of CM roles have a communication tag on them.
The fact that messages are not often understood shows why the training tag gets added.
Because organizations and individuals do not seem to be too good at transferring information through structure CM roles now have Org. Design and Business Process tags.
Regardless of which of those tags seems the most important for this particular change all initiatives need a Messenger.
Mini Roles for the Messenger
Starting with the owner and working down, most of the messages that go out to stakeholders have to be translated into a different language. It might be the language of function, or group or geography (which may, literally, be a language translation).
When we are brought in early and high there is a chance we can help build an understanding and description of the end state. In those rare occasions there is less translation needed.
Is a higher level of translation.
“What he meant was…”.
With time and, again early entry, we can guide and consult owners to explain in a way and at a level that stakeholders connect with. Those owners learn to interpret their own person message that resonates for the change and the work it will require.
As Messenger we also spend a lot of time delivering messages back and forth. Most are not interpreted or translated. (In fact a lot of it is junk mail that does not get read and its quickly “thrown away”- change models are great at creating LOTS of “junk mail” and “spam”).
The real mailperson sorts, stacks and delivers. They don’t get to decide what gets transferred and what does not. That is usually the case for CM practitioners. We can question though. Imagine if you could tell your mailperson, “if something is junk and you think I will throw it away don’t deliver it”.
We often get to stand on the “hilltop” and predict the future through our wise, sage advice.
On our best days people come from far away for our futurist perspective.
We most often become the Oracle though in those organizations that are the biggest mess in terms of underlying root causes. When there are deep seated problems a window into a brighter future is helpful. (And I would add not a window that someone stuck in the middle of the root cause quicksand can see through or open).
Let’s face it CM practitioners spend an inordinate amount of time scribing the messages.
Sometimes it really is with paper and pen, most of the time with keyboard and screen.
When the scribing is effective it has a lot to do with pictures, diagrams and visual elements.
I have always thought one of my best value/ROI cases is the fact that my questioning of process (which scribing is always buried in the middle of) with adjustments from my suggestions might easily pay for my cost.
We change practitioners are really the Messenger in disguise playing translator, interpreter, mailperson, Oracle and scribe often almost at the same time.
Project managers, thanks to the addition of the change management consultant line item, are getting a taste of change management and switching from a competitive to a cooperative approach. Many organizations have, smartly, realized these are two different roles with two different skill sets. (Yes many can do both roles or exchange roles but these two do not make for a good SINGLE role within any major project- and certainly not for any kind of program or initiative)
5 things for PM’s to think about
- We do not want your job.
Or your particular influence, or any of your particular power.
You want to get things done, check off the list, accomplish. We want to do things right, consider people and business and create solutions (end states) that last. That is a perfect combination. We can be partners. Either as right hand people for your role, when we are brought in middle-of-the-organization, to guide you in your implementation strategy OR as valuable liaisons to the owner, leaders and influencers when we contract higher up than your hierarchical placement. Fight with us for power (which we care little about) and you are wasting a valuable resource.
- We have a different measure of success.
On time and budget are your usual measures.
How often do you depart and the budget goes out the window from mistakes, missteps and errors? We, change practitioners, can give you some answers. We come in before, after, during and in and out. We see a lot (and we tend to be asked to fix a lot). What if you got the reputation of not only satisfying your time and budget measures, but also leaving solutions and infrastructure pieces that sustain your work? You might even get credit for building the foundation for the next project/change/solution.
- We don’t jump to take credit for things.
Get on the good side of a CM and you might find lots of your checklist items getting satisfied with much less input and work from you.
We rarely look for credit for accomplishments because we think well into the future. We are gone before our true work is visible. You should leverage this both to get credit and to create credit from our work. If you see that connection we will help you.
- We see well into the future.
Your focus is the things that need to happen to complete this project. Our focus is on the environment and scenario after your role is over. We move backwards from that end state to gauge what needs to happen, be added and be accomplished. We both want the same things, in some ways, we just come at it from different angles and directions. If you understand that and leverage it, nasty mistakes can be avoided. Or look at it this way, our measure of risk is different than yours- and a valuable addition to your work.
- We focus first on people.
You focus on ROI, business results, metrics.
We are being asked, more and more, to be both business AND people experts (business process, organizational capability, job roles, competency measures tied to strategy are now solid pieces of my own resume- not change specific). Your biggest risk, always, is people. Either the motivation of people or the lack of resources. We fully understand how that makes your role difficult and we like tackling that difficulty.
So project managers or PMO’s as a whole, if you are waging a battle against the power levers you have or might fell slipping away, stop, take a breath. At least from an external perspective (those employed next to you may be on a different mission) we are looking for many of the same things you are in terms of work, strategy, tactics and results.
Change Practitioners (the good ones anyway) do not want your job, measure success differently, don’t take credit for things, see the future and focus on people. All five of those thing can be very helpful for you if you switch from competition to cooperation.
My blog has some white space (black in this case) this summer.
I finally pinpointed what happened.
Looking back over my career I can make a long list of times when power plays affected the ability to get a role, to be successful at a role and to keep a role for the agreed on time.
A few examples:
- Head Hunters
A couple of times I have been contacted by Head Hunters (the real kind not the representatives or staffing firms trying to wear consulting uniforms) and led through cheery “you are the perfect fit” conversations only to be screened out of submission. The power play here is the fact that the person must stay some period of time. Any mention that this is not really an employment role or that it is an internal/external mix situation is a nix. One of those situations has me smiling because the choice they made did not make it through the year, they couldn’t keep the next person and the role is up again (and pushed way down the hierarchy which dooms it to failure).
Don’t even get me started on this one. They do want you in there. They, after all, get paid for parked bodies. They rarely even know who the owner of the engagement is and refuse to admit their job is to make one phone call, fill out a form and move on. That power grab waste of time is what used to be a phone call to the person doing the work, which was one short step from getting the work started. Best story here is the time I finally decided to hold my ground and explain things to the recruiter. That included that fact that their role was really just in the way. (I was irritated because they offered me a rate which was doubled by the next staffing firm- an attempt to power grab what should be MY compensation). They hung up in disgust promising to never talk to me again and to let others know. Take a guess at who made next Monday mornings call for a different role… to me. Yes that very same disgruntled recruiter. With fake happy talk no less!
- Vice Presidents
I have decided this is the most competitive horizontal. Especially if professional services or sales is in the mix. They instinctively push things, especially change, well down the ladder. Half the time they push it so far away they really have NO control. Every time I have an SVP meeting and it is followed by VP looks at my profile I wonder why we didn’t just all sit down for 20 or 30 minutes and talk about their scenario- before any contracting.
- Consulting Firms
This one has actually lightened up a bit (mostly because the consulting firms are having to fight the procurement/staffing firm battle together). For a while there was a ridiculous protection of clients as if they were race horses in a stable. California, thankfully, one of the few non compete states, scoffs at this practice. I have my own firm. I get it. It would frustrate me if someone “stole” my clients. Then I would ask why and improve. And I don’t compete on price anymore so this power play is just kind of comical.
- Middle Management
Are always trying to usurp change- and the messenger. The few who don’t are fantastic to work with. Those are the ones I try to help get promoted so they can move from implementary leader to owner of the change.
- Anyone in any transactional vertical
Every organization has the power grabbers from other verticals- the ones who rarely have change initiatives of their own- procurement, legal, HR, the PMO (this one sometimes does have initiatives for their vertical, which makes them MORE power hungry).
My silence in writing comes from this simple fact- I am an external. I don’t care about power.
I care about solutions and results. I don’t have a title. I chose NOT to have one by being external.
Having to fight so many people I am not interested in fighting is a distraction from accomplishment. And a drain on creative energy.
Replace I with most senior consultants who have somehow managed to work around all these power plays and still stay in business. This isn’t just about “me”.
Head hunters, recruiters, VP’s, consulting firms, middle management and people inside of transactional verticals make for a world of Change With Power Plays.
I coach soccer.
A parent volunteered to create a website with Shutterfly (quite the smart marketing idea for a photo company to provide this service for free). Looking at the preloaded site I realize most of the things I am keeping track of as a coach are there (the parent loaded what I gave him). But not everything. As the coach I have information that should not be shared (or at least have levels of security)…
For a previous post, “Change Management What to Keep Track of”, I looked at what might go in a CM spreadsheet.
Now I am wondering about the spreadsheet itself.
This is why: My information will always have to be entered twice.
In the soccer scenario when a parent adds vacation time I can choose to also put it in my spreadsheet. If a parent gives me vacation information, and I want that available for the team, it has to be recorded twice.
The same thing happens on engagements. I have had this double entry scenario when making lists of competencies. It is helpful for stakeholders to know who the experts are. That talent recording will always be in my CM spreadsheet.
Reactions to This
- If websites (for organizations usually SharePoint) can sort then what is the point of the separate spreadsheet?
- If the practice was to make most things public then the whole issue of recording to show you have done something goes out the window (and you get others to do the tactical work).
- CM processes will/would have to change if information is really “web based”. Do we store the things we look at but don’t want others to see separately, or just keep that information in our heads? (I always have a file that looks a little like the red, green, yellow process I pick on to keep my own notes on individual and group stakeholder motivation).
- What would be the reason for having a public forum? (In the case of the soccer team it could be as a place to share all of the information that might otherwise fly around in emails. The same could be said for the organizational version).
- If you build it will they come? (hint the answer is not so much).
A portal could replace spreadsheets (or another type of file) or it could be twice the amount of work for the change team. Where is the balance between transparency/information and secure storage/note taking? Thinking this through with soccer as a comparison has me wondering about some assumptions we are making about change management’s engagement process and exchange of data.
What should go into this empty space?
Lot’s of time gets wasted in organizations keeping track of things that do not need to be kept track of.
Measurement can be a good or horrible thing.
Records the same.
When it comes to change management what is helpful to put in all those little (but expandable) cells?
If you want to remain pure to this software the answer would be numbers that you will crunch and/or things that need to be quickly sorted.
For the first it might be:
- percentages from surveys
- size of groups (number of people in groups can be a helpful figure for change)
- possibly a budget (but that should really be the project managers spreadsheet)
For the second (sorting):
- Maybe a stakeholder list
- A list of communications
- Important dates
- Regularly scheduled events
- Events specific to this change
- Media used in the organization
Are you keeping track of things for yourself and team or recording for later use?
I find this question not asked. Which means the secondary question, why? is definitely not asked. There are so many times with junior practitioners that I want to scream out, “do you realize you are only using half of that stuff you are recording?”. To be fair it is probably someone else I need to be screaming at- the practitioner is the symptom filler not the root cause problem.
The things that are regularly kept track of are big time wasters (read expensive):
A stakeholder list: I have only had two engagements where I had access to a good list. Every other request has been nixed by HR so we literally guess from existing records and spreadsheets. Guessing means most of the important information is missing. That means the change management itself is subjective (read guesswork).
Red, green, yellow columns: is that for yourself or recording? You do realize that people will see the yourself version (and be able to read into your subjectivity things that do not exist in your mind). Is it for recording? Same thing only in this case they will be able to look back on your subjectivity. One can only hope that they see how little objectively was used so there is improvement from your recording effort.
All the contact information: This is the stakeholder list on steroids. Is there an organization that doesn’t have a directory. Why are people duplicating that?
Everything that leaves blank columns. The only thing worse than blank columns that never get filled is a spreadsheet with hundreds of repeating duplicate fill ins. Without the duplication you can’t sort, but it makes the spreadsheet an ugly monstrosity. (When I know my spreadsheet is for my or my teams use with little sorting we assume a blank space is the cell above repeating the same information).
What I have never seen kept track of
(except on my own tools by me)
Huge initiatives will have titles and specialties, but they often have little to do with the change. They represent the present for that organization. What about the end state? What about the journey? There have to be things, people, specialties that need to be filled in or built. Do practitioners and organizations needing to change just not think that way? If so then things like competencies DO need to be recorded, if only to be thinking in the right direction.
Notes on stakeholder comments
Valuable information surfaces early on if you do a real assessment connected to the change. Stakeholders give feedback that can save time, help craft end states and make a connection between their talent and the end state or journey. That should be recorded. And rewarded later.
Notes that show communication loops
I keep track of specific things that I have relayed in both directions, to leaders and stakeholders, in order to see patterns in the way things are interpreted. I said things, sometimes it is people. Does an effective loop exist? Is it getting strengthened through my mediation? Is either side learning from the other? Most of the communication loops in organizations are controlled by a vetting process where leaders look at some presentation and give a thumbs up or down. Not the best way to understand each other or work together toward change. (It definitely does not change the LEADERS behavior).
A list of things to tie back success
No not “best practices”, but specific things that pulled the change forward. Maybe a leader made a bold decision. Maybe a stakeholders comment or tip was integrated into something. Maybe someone was willing to call out the difficulty of their own behavior change to speed that of someone else. These events, things, need to be called out, rewarded and recorded to show examples of specifics that pull change.
If you have done any change and have any leftover filled in tools look back at them. Ask yourself how the information in the cells is REALLY connected to the change your were seeking. Or is it just stuff that needed to be put down to show you were doing something?
So you have a change group set up in your organization.
Things, maybe, aren’t quite going the way you expected.
Perhaps Internal Change Management Side Effects have appeared?
In my own work I spend a lot of time dialing back organizations, teams and internal practitioners to fill in things they missed.
There are some core things that HAVE to exist for change to happen. Getting a few of those “have-to’s” in place can give internal change groups a chance at that leverage and exposure (and dare I say effectiveness?) that they desperately seek.
Need some tips?
- Change your perspective.
First and foremost you HAVE to start thinking in terms of end states, solutions and goals. If you are present focused you are doomed to stay that way. Nothing wrong with the present… when it is the foundation for the future. Craft examples of the future you are going to help guide. Not the “we need this”, “we need that”. Not company x is kicking our you-know-what’s. The spot you want to be that is where you should be looking.
- Back away from the tools.
Tools are a dime a dozen. Pay me for a day and I will give you a stack of them “completely original”. A tool never caused a change. A tool never really facilitated change. A tool always takes time. That was the time you were going to use for tip #1. Without tip #1 you WILL FAIL- no matter how pretty that tool you designed or got sold.
- Give up on owner connection.
For 6 years now I have watched presentations about “leadership buy-in”. Give it up. See scapegoat in yesterday’s post. Those leaders are not listening. Lucky for you there are leaders who will listen. Not the owners, unfortunately, but the implementary leaders. Those leaders who got the buck passed to them and are now the unofficial owners. Officially they are the owners now, but stakeholders see right through that. They could really use your help (you NOT your tools).
- Partner with implementary leaders.
Teach them how to craft end states. Give them a communication plan that is both formal and informal. Create a set of templates that call out this change (yes there are some tools that pass muster). Get a quick mix of leadership interaction early in the change process (use video, audio, text, social media and surprise in person visits). Be the spokesperson and the conduit for this leader (like you wish you could do with the owner-remember you gave that up, right?). (Do this right and the leader you are working with now, will become the owner you crave in the future- call it your personal change end state).
- Establish a landing spot.
It shocks me that these change groups so feverishly set up rarely have a virtual landing spot. There are a lot of hoops to get through to create social media, even if it is just one SharePoint portal, I realize that. I have had a couple of change initiatives that were JUST social media set up, nothing else. This is HAVE #2. Without a landing spot to help differentiate, compare, contrast and put change in context you will FAIL.
- Get out of the cave and see the light.
Insularity kills change groups. Actually I have yet to see a change group be taken away (which bodes well for CM). So inward thinking makes for sick, unhealthy change groups. I can say, no generalization what so ever, there is not a leader of a change group who is more senior or more experienced than some external consultant. I, personally, have been in 70+ cultures doing something for each organization. There is no way an internal can match that. Why would you not use mine or some other external consultants knowledge? Is this about you or the results and the effect you have? Hiding in a cave has never made change happen.
Tips aside look at it this way: You are trying to help your organization get to a spot. That spot requires the talent of individuals. Those individuals need to be able to participate. What can you do to make sure the right people are lined up at the right time to use their talent to pave the way to that spot? It is your role to lay the trail to that spot.
Six tips that can help change groups catch up a little and survive even if a few pieces are missing: how you see change, what you use to get there, who you partner with, how you communicate and a suggestion to look outward instead of inward.