Over the years I have had countless times when I said to myself, “why isn’t there a tool to do this?”.
Once it became clear (ten years ago?) that computers and the internet were going to make it possible to do things that were impossible by hand (or at least unbelievably time consuming- how about a list of 90,000 stakeholders alphabetized?) I personally started to imagine all of the things tools might be able to do.
Seeing possibilities can make one a little disillusioned. Wishing and “alphabetizing” don’t go well together.
Eventually every one of my ideas seems to happen. My latest favorite is fluid websites that adjust to the device being used. I knew something like that would happen eventually.
The disillusioned part of the tools equation is that is takes too long for technology to develop.
The wonderful part is that some tool technology moves fast.
The even more wonderful part (for an independent external consultant at least) is that it is often hard for people to figure out what to do with these fancy tools. The vendor will tell you. (Oops more disillusioned here- countless times as a change agent my clients have had to reel back on promises the vendor swore they could keep). We can tell you from your perspective (with outside input and experience added).
When is comes to tools, question:
But all too often organizations, or an individual in that organization with buying power, buy tools based on the vendors idea of functionality. The decision should be YOUR idea of functionality. The simple way to define this category is through the next three.
Will this tool honestly facilitate ideas (if that is why you bought the tool- Adobe has an app. for Creative Cloud called “Ideas”)?
Will it help you see things you would not see without the tool? Creativity can feed risk management.
Will it, oh please yes, add some color and design to your tired organizational templates?
For a lot of tools when we think of function we think of efficiency. Think about the difference simple (as we see them now, not when they first appeared) calculators made. When you use this tool (after the learning curve) are you faster? My favorite disillusioned version of this is Excel. You would think that tool would make things faster. Most spreadsheets gets loaded with weird macros, arrows everywhere for column choices and seriously distracting every-other-row-is-a-different-color “design”.
In this tool questioning category you first have to ask yourself what is important. Data? Listing of information? Some process that relies on the tool? Then you can measure or determine efficiency. I say this because new tool choices often increase efficiency while adding “functionality” (the vendor form) that slows things down.
Organizations and the people within (but to be fair also externals trying to show effort) are fanatics for recording. We live in a Google glasses world (there’s a strange tool). Honestly, who cares?
Disillusion us with all of your data.
Are your really going to use that stuff? Now? Later?
If so then great. Get a tool that makes it easy to put that information down and easy to retrieve.
And then, for crying out loud, actually USE the data.
A tidbit for you: Lynda.com owns training for tools. They have some of the best training courses and modules I have ever seen. A client asked me what good training is/looks like…It shows the overall picture, it illustrates the process for using the tool and it puts individual components in context with the two. Lynda.com courses have overviews, a table of contents that is the process for using the tool and individual modules for specific tasks. That is well designed training. When a client asks if I can do something (say put together a SharePoint site- and fill all the roles) I can usually say yes because I have spent hundreds of hours on Lynda.com. I can always say, “with a little time, yes” thanks to this site.
Tools. They are either wonderful or they are the seeds of disillusionment. The things we can now do with tools are amazing. The amount of time wasted with the wrong tools is disillusionary. The combination makes me Wonderfully Disillusioned.
If you are a true consultant with the ability to see the impossible-possible, disillusionment can often overpower you.
There is nothing more frustrating than seeing obvious solutions (however gargantuan the effort to get to obvious might be) and knowing there is really no way to get there. Too much relies on others. Organizational structures are built to resist change. It is difficult to get the ear of the change owner and even more troublesome to try to get their voice. This can leave a consultant pretty disillusioned.
But then we sit down together as peers (as I did yesterday with a fresh new acquaintance with a resume very different, but much the same, as mine) and just talk it all out. We moan first, usually, about all of the things (and yes people) that have gotten in the way of solutions with our work. We talk about bad tools, poor governance, crazy overwhelming risk models. We basically throw all the disillusion on the table.
Which, yesterday is a good example, is a great way to get to wonderful!
When the conversation moves to the next step we realize, through hearing our own words and that of peers, that we make a difference. We make a lot of little differences for individuals. I heard myself talk about all the times I have helped junior leaders, informally (nothing in the contract, no extra compensation… maybe there should have been) build their leaderships skills. I use commute time to have conversations with these leaders. Those Bluetooth headset phone calls often turn into coaching programs. Those leaders could not afford to hire me on their own (obviously the organizations they work for choose not to as well). Being able to offer this up at an individual level is wonderful.
My new-found acquaintance talked about her path to building into her first engagement with hired support. Aside: independent consultants with their own firms dream of the day a senior executive contracts with them and asks us to build a team through our firm. She got to this spot by being available for clients, by sticking with one company to build a reputation, by building the kind of relationship I can tell she does well. Her dream of solutions will fall short too. Her story gave me hope that we make a difference at multiple levels.
So consultants on those days when you feel like you are being compensated to run on some treadmill that never really accomplishes anything look around you. Look past the disillusionment. There is probably an individual next to you that you made a difference for. There might be a client that you guided toward one of those solutions (guiding counts, remember they will never get to the end states we see). Some time off in the future something you said, something you created and left with the organization, some leader now promoted, will also make a difference because of you.
Consultants, especially change management consultants, often want to craft and guide clients to perfect end states. That is a quick way to be disillusioned. Look around at the effect your efforts have though. You will see individual wonderful. You might see wonderful on a bigger scale- because of you. We DO make a difference (just not as much as we wish) for that I am Wonderfully Disillusioned.
Too much discernment (my word for sensible criticism), too much criticism, too much calling out what is or might be wrong.
So this Wednesday I am going with ONLY wonderful.
Change management, some say, has been around a long time.
Maybe, but not with that title.
When I started it was not called change management (maybe OD, maybe organizational effectiveness). I haven’t been practicing for that long. I would say CM is in its teenage years. It grew up fast! (yes that is wonderful).
- We have come from layering over IT to get people to “punch different keys” to calculating ways to steer behavior in completely different ways in short periods of time.
- We have come from something that was tagged on to other things to a practice that can stand alone (and layer).
- We now integrate multiple specialties into the CM label- engagements often, now, have training, communications and development specialists not to mention subject matter experts that “report” to us in different ways.
- We get respect. That is new and wonderful for sure.
- We are sometimes, now, given the time to do this change thing right.
- And even, on magical engagements, allowed to help the organization build its strength, capability and competency (OD within CM).
- We are often the center of an organizations social media strategy. That means we are always invited to the party- wherever it happens to be.
- We are frequently tapped for business process improvement. For me that fits right into our ability to understand people and how people work best together (hint a smooth way to get things to happen always helps- good process is, after all, wonderful).
- We are frequently thought of as organizational design experts. That is one of my own labels and would not have become a specialty without the growth, visibility and respect CM has gained.
- We, if we do this right and push the correct buttons, actually do get a chance to help people-individuals and groups.
There are a lots of wonderful things happening with change management. This particular Wednesday post reveals no disillusionment.
It is Wednesday. So I am Wonderfully Disillusioned.
I spent the earlier part of the week at the ACMP conference. This is the spot to go for change management thought, exchange and knowledge. Or it is supposed to be. This week makes me feel like CM is in some sort of arrested development-or reverting back to some previous state.
One session talked about change management silo’s. No not client and internal silos that get in the way of change-silos within change approaches, specifically “OCM” work. Practitioners (at least the internal ones) have copied the things they are supposed to be addressing.
Many of the sessions talked about internal change entities with lots of fanciful ways to “report”. At a panel presentation, when I whispered, after someone else’s question, “who would this change group report to”, “THE CEO”, there was elephant-in-the room-laughter and then an uncomfortable pause while the panelists re-crafted their answers. They all knew they did not report to the CEO and should.
There was lots of talk about gaining sponsorship of executives and building capacity and influence internally. You know like the conference 5 years ago. I had too many deja-vu moments and not because solid change management approaches were being reiterated with fresh faces.
The keynote talked of brain research (without ever really showing the actual studies) that emphasized fear and reward as if we are all out hunting Mastodons… much like five years ago when the conference had another name. Research with assumptions is research with the intended result- not necessarily something that is usable (sellable yes). Clients beware any company created in tangent with “research”.
I write this before our panel. We are hoping to spark some creative (and possibly inward looking) thought. Maybe some wonderful comes out of that exchange.
Where is the wonderful now you ask?
- The conversations at the tables. One attendee, after an animated discussion about things that are not being presented at the conference, said to me, “this is what I came for, where do I get this?” The Change Management profession suffers from a debilitating (soon if they do not change themselves) groupthink. Comments like this show some questioning is going on behind the scenes. That is WONDERFUL.
- The interest in internal capacity/capability and external voices. I am, of course, thrilled that to a person there is agreement that externals bring a voice. When those voices are future facing, empathetic to the current environment and with status quo breaking tones things are wonderful.
- Change Management is growing. Growing influence. Growing acceptance. Growing in general. That is wonderful. (I purposely left out growing capability- see the first paragraph).
This years change management conference has shown me that much of the CM space has become a mirror image of the things practitioners are supposed to change. That sells. Judging from aside conversations and interactions away from the formal presentations this will change. That will be wonderful. I will be back next year, hopefully to be a part of that.
Up high on the things that get in the way of change is decisions. Or more refined: Lack thereof and difficulty getting them.
When I am really disillusioned I want to scream, “just decide already!” or “just make someone responsible for this!” (then go back to the first scream).
It really isn’t that simple this decision-making thing (and for that I am wonderfully disillusioned).
Decision Making Options
Command and Control
This is the easiest right?
The highest person on the ladder for this particular thing makes the decision. They always make the decision (that is why we call them decision makers). They decide, everyone else follows (or obeys depending on your perspective). It is simple. LOTS of decisions get made.
For anyone who has followed (or been commanded to follow) a bad decision you know why this category can make you disillusioned. In many ways the status quo of command and control makes it very hard to address, call out or reverse bad choices. Theoretically those decision makers can be easily fired. After all the trail is clear.
That rarely happens. When it does that person takes their resume to a new place where there is no track record. Rinse and repeat.
The wonderful part here though is that it is easy to find and go to the person who HAS to make the decision.
Which is why some organizations slide into empowerment mode.
That clear trail to someone to blame gets mixed up if you start empowering people and sharing responsibility. Empowerment is wonderful, but it can also be a mask for ineffectual leadership.
For change, empowerment decision-making is wonderful, but empowerment must come with clear responsibility and rewards for success. Adding the opportunity to be mentored past mistakes is nice too (and reinforces the organizational ability to empower).
Put a representative from different functions, specialties or areas of your organization (the mix depends on what the steering committee was SUPPOSED to be for) together with a regularly scheduled meeting and let them decide. It is the perfect cross functional decision-making structure, right?
Or it is a place where decisions go to die.
Without mediation these kind of competing interests do not do a good job of making decisions (if they are the results are usually watered down and ineffective- think government).
Organizations quickly realized that so a status quo set up started. Let other people gather information, maybe even basically make the decision for you (those are usually called options and you only have go to one to decide), present to you and then you decide. Actually not you. You and all the others on the committee. For the committee sitter this is a wonderful spread of responsibility. For a CM this is disillussionary. (Although we do sometimes pull in revenue for that previously mentioned mediation).
Or you can just make sure everyone agrees.
The only time consensus makes sense is when you have a small group that knows they share responsibility for something. A project team is the perfect example. You probably still have competing interests but end state views are usually fairly close (it is the path and the lists that vary). These groups can decide. They may bargain a little- you get your choice this time I get mine later.
Small groups are willing to be bold. If consensus makes for a solid, rather than watered down choice then it is wonderful for everyone to agree (said with a little disillusioned snark).
Organic decision-making just happens.
I think organic decision-making is a response to no decisions being made. It is the “I will do it myself, then” approach. The wonderful part is that it often works. Agreement can have a powerful momentum. If an organization develops a pattern of individually being on board when they really do not care which way the decision goes then any decision automatically has a group of adherents. It is like built in consensus for boldness. That is wonderful.
When the whole thing plays out willy-nilly and decisions (a lot of them bad) are like presents on Christmas gone wild it gets not so wonderful. It can be comical when everyone wants to be on the decision-making band wagon. I get disillusioned when the good decisions don’t get their fair credit. Organic organizations still have a gossamer thread of command and control- just enough to often render the power of organic powerless.
Whether by command and control; empowerment; committees; consensus or organic, good decisions are fantastic. Bad decisions or no deciding at all can make you a little disillusioned. Figuring out how to get things done through the right decisions is wonderful (and often the forte of change management).
If you have been following this blog you know I use the word (a made up one) templated disparagingly.
The idea of a template is great. A form set up ahead of time that helps gather information. It is the “set up ahead of time” part that disillusions me.
How much time was spent questioning the future use of the data that will be collected?
How much time was spent judging the time it would take to fill out all of the places for data?
Really what IS the purpose for the data?
And so why this template?
More disillusionment questions:
Who is the template really for?
Is a set of templates (they so rarely stand alone, they seem to just LOVE company) masking as a process?
Does one person own the creation of the template and another its use? (Which makes sense on the surface, but might mask the answers to some of the previous questions).
Will someone make money from the sale or licensing of that template (and all of its friends who HAVE to be included in the price)?
How about this: could you get this thing done without the template? Would the result be just as effective?
There are just so many things within the change management world that are not being questioned. Templates carry a ton of groupthink with them. Find me at ACMP (one place to start: Perks and Perils: Optimizing Internal & External Change Management) if you want to banter about CM groupthink.
The templates that are being designed separate from a sale and separate from those power-hungry-internal-change-process-designers are getting SIMPLER. I have even seen one, gasp, that did not have the silly column for red,green,yellow “impact” (how about we make change a little less art and subjectivity and a little more science and objectivity- to the extent we can, I am still on the art side- when we are talking about talented artists).
Simple is wonderful! (and has a way of scraping away a little disillusionment).
I have seen a few template sets (disclosure: I DO design template sets for clients) that are project specific in their style and barely, just barely, include any ridiculous company branding. (I think it is the craziest thing to brand to your own employees. It almost seems a little creepy). Project/Change specific templates convey messages much better. They separate change messaging. They give new ways to organize information without the constraints from the internal communication functions’ style sheet.
That kind of specificity, and freedom, is wonderful.
Templates, and templated approaches, are not going away. I am disillusioned that so many of them are blindly created and religiously followed. There are a few people smart enough to see around this who are making templates simpler and change specific. That’s wonderful. Both together make me Wonderfully Disillusioned.
Early effort for change, when luck or planning has “early” included, is often a lot of discussion about “what if’s”. Not the what if’s of imagining and looking toward end states, but the disillusioning what if’s about people. So and so pushed back last time, will they do it again? She refuses to team with anyone, forcing her expectations on everyone else… will that happen again? Sale won’t like this. HR will push back. Finance is stingy. Choose your chosen label, assumptions and disillusioned resistance fighting.
I sometimes get one of those uncomfortable smiles in these types of meetings. Not because I am happy and looking to laugh, but because my body is signaling discomfort-disillusionment.
The meetings are essential and the assumptions are probably to be expected. It is a people thing.
Many times after this initial, “this is going to be so hard”, wave passes over, end state descriptions get created and solid stakeholder connection begins, something shows up.
Most of us, in some way, have chosen our roles, our jobs, our careers.
And it turns out a lot of us are dedicated.
Dedicated to moving things forward.
Dedicated to learning.
Dedicated to trying hard.
And, yes, to helping with changes and change.
For this fantastic human trait I say I am wonderfully disillusioned.
The wonderful comes when the change path opens up and people start working on the list of tasks. That is when you (I on engagements) get to see people doing what they do best. I get to see talent reaffirmed. I get to see those competencies that we listed early on as important for the change, being used. I get to see people dig in to their work. We all get to see the interaction of multiple specialties and talents combining for something bigger than the sum of the individuals.
Work and talent combined with individual dedication overcomes the assumptions of resistance and difficulty. For that I am Wonderfully Disillusioned.
I have a confession to make: I have been very disillusioned with the competency of internal change agents.
The use of this generic term includes leaders responsible for change, internal change management consultants (an oxymoronic term for me), those pretending to be change agents and those tasked with some component of change (whether they like it or not). I have been disillusioned because these agents read a little (and mostly I do mean a little or a lot just the business books that would bore my 11-year-old), participate in a few things organizationally that are a little different (which they call “change”) and then take on more than they can handle. Or they get swept up in the evangelical approach of some templated change company thinking if they fill in the cells and answer those questions change will happen (and they will get big credit for it).
It is as simple as this: anyone who tries to own change (except for the actual owner) I am suspect of.
An agent of change should be guiding, mentoring, facilitating, helping to get change to happen. And NOT taking credit for the success.
Could it be that change management has matured? Because those loud voices, those overpowering personalities that got caught up in the first wave of CM are being replaced by organizers, people/people, business focused individuals and externals turned internal. I also have to confess that in the last year or so I have been genuinely impressed with some change agents I have worked with, come across. They are clients. They are partners in change initiatives. They are team leads. They are, and I thought I would never say this, also HR people.
So to the wonderful
These true agents (in my mind with my reference point and perspective, but 72 different company cultures I have seen probably gives me a pretty fair vantage point) GET it. They get this change thing. The wonderful part is that they know STUFF HAS TO GET DONE. They know decisions HAVE to be made. They understand that they are not supposed to be responsible for those things- change management just does not work that way. (And if the change agents are doing all the work they have become project managers). Yet they often quietly (remember no rewards, but thank you’s in this career) get a few of those things done. They often quietly make a decision happen. The good ones can even steer the change process in different directions than they would personally choose, because they have end states in mind.
I am seeing, and this is truly refreshing, templates used as dialogue sheets. PowerPoint as discussion. Pictures before stats. Squares, circles and colors before cells and every-other-row-shading.
I am hearing a different tone in virtual meetings. It is a makes sense tone. What is possible, what can we do, but also what is perfection? Getting nowhere near perfection is much better than never having tried.
I am sensing some boldness too. Change initiatives are budgeted much smarter now. CM is more than a line item, it has become a necessity. When there are not enough resources agents are demanding more (in a nice way of course, that is how we operate). I can now say that I have been pulled in at the beginning, in the middle, toward the end and after end states for initiatives big and small. At the beginning is preferred, but seeing CM inserted all through the change timeline is encouraging.
Change Management is maturing. Change competency is beginning to show. There are signs we are getting better at this change thing. I, personally, have gone from disillusioned to Wonderfully Disillusioned.
To some extent all change is impossible.
Call me disillusioned, but there are just too many things that have to change before you can accomplish the real change. Each one of those little things requires multiple people looking at things in a different way (and looking far off and imagining ,which we seem to have lost the ability to do) and then making decisions together. Change takes time. Time costs in some way. Organizations build up structural elements that make it OK to resist change. Some performance measures actually reward for NOT changing.
There is a wonderful element to all this.
If there is a chance to talk about change early on without actually feeling like it needs to happen in any way- the “what if” conversations- possibility abounds. Even the gloomiest of stakeholders can talk about things being better- so what if their version is bemoaning the present and wanting things to be better is some way. Honest, possibility is possible.
I am thinking of this as an external coming into a new engagement. There can easily be the same version internally when starting a new change. Starts have this window of opportunity to imagine, to create, to consider, to pretend. Even if you never get anywhere (the disillusioned part) you take yourself away from task and deadline (that is nothing BUT wonderful… for a little while).
Take advantage of starts. Heck just PRETEND you are starting something to open up your mind to differences.
Don’t waste starts.
All good things do come to an end (and some bad things seem to last forever… they also end though).
As an external consultant leaving is really not an ending. If we have done well to transfer some of our knowledge and expertise then we will have left something at the client site, into the fabric of the organization.
Disillusion: that place we leave has NEVER gotten to where WE wish it would. End states are like that. They morph and change themselves to become something different than the original description.
Wonderful: and isn’t that cool? Isn’t that just how we are as people, how human nature operates? There is a lot to be said for adaptation, adjustment, mid track corrections and acknowledgment that the first thing picked may not be the best when given more information.
We all like starts. And we all dread some starts. We all like to finish things. And we all are bittersweet about endings (and goodbyes). Starting and Ending can be uncomfortable and fantastic at the same time. They make me wonderfully disillusioned.
Organizations, especially the big ones (Fortune 100 and equivalent), have become very organic.
This is good because it can empower.
It is good because it takes away the opportunity to dictate over a broad group of people.
It is positive because it gets lots of people involved.
Interesting, it is negative for the same reasons:
Empowerment is often a synonym for inclusion (which itself translates to everyone involved in everything [PS that is REALLY expensive]).
Inability to dictate means there is no official prioritization (and no your committees are not doing that).
Since when does everyone need to be involved?
I am wonderfully disillusioned by this kind of environment. It has a lot of running around. It has a lot of people getting together. It has a lot of digging, asking questions and intuition. It can have a lot of energy. All that is the wonderful part.
It is frustrating to watch things take two, three, four times longer than they should. It is a little scary to see the mad rush for a decision when things get scaled up (to leaders who have kept themselves away from the information they need to decide things). I can almost hear the coins falling on the ground (or the silent landings of bills, big ones) in those meetings, virtual, of 20 people or more.
The crazy busy, but painfully slow environment that is an organic organization makes me wonderfully disillusioned.