Beware the Opportunist

ChangeOpportunist

This little note is spinning around LinkedIn picking up “likes” as it goes.

See my, “Half Full or Half Empty- Change Management and Perception” version.

This is funny from four angles and an extra:

Optimist

Sees the glass full.

In fact, as I mentioned in my previous post, sometimes thinks they can WILL the glass full.

When the opportunist succeeds the optimist cries. When the opportunist fails (and there is always a measure of failure against action focused approaches) the optimist sighs. I am an optimist. I sigh a lot. I, personally, get no pleasure (well not much) out of failure due to lack of planning.

The optimist becomes a Realist when they begin to see that end state of a full glass and realize the long path to get there.

Pessimist

Sees the glass half empty.

And, as mentioned in the previous post, sometimes swears they can see the water going down.

When there is failure the Pessimist gets affirmation. When there is success luck and superstition are often cited as the success factors.

A Pessimist becomes an Optimist, and maybe a Realist, when they, one day get a chance to drink the water from the full glass. It has to be the kind of water that has the taste they like. Otherwise, (see luck above).

Realist

Sees the glass for what it is.

‘Could be half full, ‘could be half empty, “why dwell on that?”.

A practical or pragmatic Realist may use some measure to decide whether something needs to be done about this glass thing.

A Realist becomes an Optimist when they value a full glass and then see the water rise. Vice versa for becoming a Pessimist. A Realist can turn into an Opportunist fast if those measurements look enticing and they think they can get a head start on the competition.

Opportunist

Sees the water.

The glass is just the vessel.

Is this person our hero or antagonist? (Or the pest that steals stuff from the garden at night?).

Change guy view: if action is needed it is great to have the opportunist around. If thought should prevail for a better end state then the opportunist can actually become a saboteur.

Opportunists (the title hints of this) tend to do things from a selfish or self-centered perspective. Did they share the water? Not likely. Did they use the empty glass as leverage for something (possibly, Opportunists do tend to be able to make something out of nothing… salespeople ring a bell)?

In the end, as our note suggests, the water is gone with the Opportunist thirst quenched and snickering.

The score on the note- Optimist lost big time, Pessimist is now right and Opportunist took advantage of the other two.

Beware the Opportunist those of you who ponder possibility or failure.

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Permissions

How many different kinds of permissions are there in organizations?

I started a discussion on LinkedIn questioning the organizational pattern of middle leaders coming up with things, senior leaders approving or not and the organization as a whole thinking that is somehow strategy. Now I am intrigued by the answers to the posts. Most stretched the definition of permission in multiple ways.

Permission from a senior

This is the version that got my cackles up.

It is very common in organizations for work to be decided through a permission process where middle managers (or their hired gun consultants) present in PowerPoint to get approval. (In fact many project processes are an endless string of these interactions). Everyone seems to think this pattern is OK.

Here is what I see:

  • Senior leaders disconnecting. It is much easier to place the responsibility for decisions in someone else’s lap. “Hey you told me, in that presentation, that this was going to work”.
  • Middle managers taking over. This can sometimes be a good thing, especially if senior management HAS checked out. But it often happens because the middle managers tell the leaders just enough to get approval and then they do it their way.
  • Too much democracy. I am all for engagement and participation and ownership at the work level, but there are just some times when ONE person needs to make a decision and be responsible. NO this pattern of up-deciding does not make this happen.

Permission to decide

This was one of the threads of expansion in the discussion. There are many times when we as individuals, and senior leaders in particular, need to give ourselves permission to decide.

I realized today that I have this pattern when I order something online that took research. The latest was a Quiet Cool whole  house fan. I looked at ducted versions, the cost for fixing our broken air conditioner, the difference between energy efficient models and the regular classic line, and I thought and compared. But when it came time to push the buy button I had to sit, think more and stare. It wasn’t until I gave myself permission, because I had done extensive research, to decide that I was able to push the button.

Which gets at the problem with our first form of permission. Leaders do not seem to look into things on their own. If they had a little more of a consultant attitude then they would not be setting bad patterns with all those PowerPoint approvals.

Permission to proceed

Sometimes we just get locked in one place and can’t move forward. Maybe something was a setback and we can’t get over it. Maybe we know people do not agree with an approach, but we are convinced it will work if we could just get started. Maybe we see the possibility of only partial success and the work is starting to seem not worth it.

For all these scenarios we need to learn to give ourselves permission to proceed. Nothing ever turns out perfect. But when nothing starts, nothing ever happens. It is OK, and we need to tell ourselves this once in a while, to take the first step.

Permission to take a chance

This one is like the last except in this case we really do not have measures for whether the work will be a success or not.

Maybe it just feels right. Maybe we have just enough parameters to know this will probably work. Maybe we, or our organization, could just use some momentum and this next action is worth the chance.

Permission passed up,  to decide, to proceed, to take a chance. Lots of permission processes are happening in organizations.

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Change Management Dreams

quicksand.fw

A vacation (without preloading blog posts) and a more disillusioned than wonderful (Wonderfully Disillusioned Wednesday’s posts reference for new readers) couple of days has created a writer’s block funk.

Being an eternal optimist (admittedly hardened as I get older), roadblocks, setbacks and obstacles take a while to build up enough for numbing “funks”. It happens once in a while though. I have come up with a strategy to get past and overcome this personal version of quicksand. Do something I really like that always works to make me feel better: DREAM.

When I make things up, when I ask why and what if questions about things I always perk up over possibility.

This works for big remodeling projects at home, it works with career development and it works at client sites for change big and small.

The key is to realize you are dreaming. (Few of these big fantasies every become reality).

Dreaming About Change Management

The Funk

This latest funk has a lot to do with change management as a specialty/industry/practice.

Here is the CM funk list:

  • Third parties in the way
  • Status quo that is consistent from organization to organization
  • Packaged template based, heavily marketed, approaches
  • Tactics over strategy
  • The Plexiglas ceiling (my new term for the inability for anyone woman or man to rise to executive levels)
  • Ridiculous fixation with “resistance” and so resistance-fighting
  • Constant homage to guru’s of the past
  • Contracting from the middle of the organization
  • Invisible or non-existent owners
  • Review processes that slow change to a snails crawl

OK I’ll stop (there is a lot more though…).

The Dream

Why?

Because people are people.

Even for dreamers like me it is often easier to just do things the way you always have. When everyone starts to operate that way, one place looks like another. And one person acts like another. And we get “human nature”.

While this frustrates and irritates me I get it. I also get the underlying structure that people-who-become-the-same tend to create.

What if?

But what if there was an organization with one person or filled with people who understood the why answer and wanted to do something about it? Just What if…

Let’s make this dream sequence easy (and practical) by matching the previous funk list:

  • Consultants especially, contractors probably, would be sourced by internal resources.
    Why is it that organizations are so intent on making project management, change management, strategy and planning internal, but are willing to divvy up the acquisition of outside resources? That is arguably the most important role in the process of change. And you outsource it? Direct contracting is in the dream. Practically is has to be cheaper. It certainly ties the organization together tightly with outside influence. Thanks to LinkedIn sourcing is easy these days (those outside recruiters have no secret hiding places for resources).
  • This dream organization would work to constantly tweak status quo.
    Maybe in the big dream they would actually start from scratch. They would look at their performance management process (and in many ways eliminate it). They would look at the way they communicate (start-up screen comms., a useful well designed portal, a system of one step editing and approval, cascade and direct to stakeholder processes, etc.). Creating this organization from scratch is my own ULTIMATE dream. This is the one I use when I am depressingly “funked”. If I ever get to help create this dream I will be able to say I made it, officially, in this career. Anyone else share this dream?
  • Templates would be for recording information not guiding process.
    Enough said about that funky and pesky-like-a-mosquito-at-night problem.
  • Strategy first.
    There are organizations that mostly just do tactics. They say they have a strategy, but it is more strategic implementation. Quarter to quarter to the next quarter with no one realizing four quarters make a year and a couple of years make a strategy. In this dream place high level talk would be about 3-5 years from now. Later conversations would be about what that means for today and tomorrow.
  • Actual hierarchy.
    I never thought I would say this, since I am not a fan of directive organizations, but companies really need to go back to old-fashioned org charts (that get published, that people can see and use). That status quo, group think thing creates a LOT of buck passing. The nature of business and society here in the US at least over the last 15 years or so is lots to the top few and little to the others. Anyone notice the org charts started disappearing at the point this started happening? Org charts are one way to have accountability. I like my dreams to be free-flowing and open. In this one category my dream would have some rigidity, structure and accountability. And it would have a clear way for people to rise to higher levels.
  • Possibility.
    Resistance is an active force against something. People often hesitate and consider and evaluate change. They often get a little nervous about new things (if they learn to dream the nervousness is the kind you get before a great performance). In my mind (or dream) resistance is sabotage- active, on purpose and meant to hold something back. And of course it doesn’t exist in my dream (or in the real world).
  • No reading.
    I would like to say this is kidding. You can read my stuff… One of my funk items is that people read one or two things, usually the most available and most heavily marketed (and written at a 7th grade level), and then become change experts by the end of the weekend. It shocks me that so many people just parrot from the past- nothing original from them. And then they suck everyone around them into their guru initiated low-level approach and perspective. In my dream people read with a discerning eye and they act having read A LOT (from every angle). OK maybe in my dream we have to go all the way back to the education system and teach discernment (Note: the new teaching standards, because of the internet and opinion over fact, have this built-in to the new approach-Kudos to whoever pushed that).
  • Contractors contracted in the middle.
    It makes sense for specialist resources to be contracted in the middle. These are the people who do the work of an employee. They are needed because the organization does not have that capability, because  that expertise is only needed for a short period of time and/or because the organization wants to learn that talent. (That is the spot where contractor starts to cross with consultant). In my dream middle of the organization leaders do what they do well-tactical approaches to strategy.
  • Visible, existent (and accountable) owners.
    In my dream world senior leaders know how to create long-term strategy. They know what those creations mean to them and their peers personally. They care about both the organization and the people (and they are rewarded for that [and rewarded realistically], not personal gain). When they have that mix-we have moved to the dream stage now-they own the results. They are active. They follow through. They actually DO some of the hands on work. Lately my dream has looped in the Board of Directors. Because in the grand dream they were once these dream owners. Now they oversee that process. They OWN accountability and results. Through others yes, but they have the leverage to make it work.
  • One stop exchange.
    My answer, in my dream and the real world, to the question, “If you could do one thing at every place you assist what would that be?”. The easy answer is reduce decision-making around exchange to one stop (OK maybe two to compromise). In the dream people are good at talking, interacting, keeping up with information inside and outside their organization (you know like consultants). Because they do this, are like this, when it comes to deciding things and interacting they have thought things through. When you think through you do not need quite as much editing and review. (and no the permission process is not “extra” thinking).

So there you go. It took close to 1400 words and my longest post to break the funk. Funk broken though!

The, my, change management dream has: direct contracting in the right place, flexible status quo, templates as data, strategy first, Org Charts, possibility, discernment, active Owners and one stop review. To see even one of these happen would be a dream come true.

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Fast Change Around Us- Life in Space

image

When social media and advanced technology (going to space is high on the advanced list) come together we have Space Fast Change Around Us. Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, has created a video series to help answer all those living in space questions. I am not one to go to videos (I would rather search text and picture based- videos seem too slow and are too time consuming). But…

This series makes me understand how people can get completely absorbed in videos and burn an incredible amount of time. We have permission for this series though because we are learning right?

We all need to know how to:

Brush our teeth in space

Sleep in space

Wash our hands in space

Cook spinach in space (to have Popeye energy for all those spacewalks)

Make a peanut butter & honey sandwich in space

Because I know you are curious: How to use the toilet in space

This is Fast Change Around Us: the ability to look at a long list of videos of people living in space. What’s next, virtually accompanying a group of astronauts on a Martian picnic?

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All Strategy is not the Same

Gail Severini’s post today, “the Enlightened Program Manager-Partnering with Change Management” got me thinking.

She says (correctly by my experience):

“The reality in most organizations is that strategy is parsed into Strategic Business Units and/or Divisions and the leader assigns it to a program manager to organize.”.

What if all strategy in organizations was not treated the same?

We have to start with those situations where this really makes sense-transformation.

True transformation- not something that just picked up the label because it is big and/or Enterprise wide. If the organization is really going to be different after this change- process, approach,technology and people (yes it is probably all of the above)- then a different kind of strategy is called for.

This would be a strategy that is orchestrated at the highest levels- CEO and Board of Directors. Everything would connect (and would be communicated as connecting) across the organization. If this is a picture it would be one map as a whole with parts and pieces within. And it would not be the map (I have seen many of these) that is drawn AFTER the parts and pieces have been parsed.

As an aside this parsing process is similar to a present to future perspective for change. It almost eliminates any view of the whole. Contrast that to strategy that is whole focused and high in the organization and an end state focus for change. Both give the whole, provide context and effectively put the “parsing” into perspective.

If all strategy were not treated the same there would always be an element that raises work (which carries lots of internal political baggage with it) to a level that is shared by all.

What if the “Program Manager” was above the units and divisions?

One way to do that would be to elevate those Program Managers Gail mentioned to this higher level-if only for the transformation.

This is done frequently in organizations by naming an SVP as the leader (In my taxonomy this would be the Implementary Leader) of the transformation. The inherent problem with this is that now you have a peer leading a horizontal (the one with the “S” ego’s and reputations). In my pie in the sky vision this Program Manager would be a role that stays after the transformation. In fact it might have been a role that was created early on in the organizations history in preparation for the big change every company goes through eventually.

I see this role as the business version of a very high level change management consultant. (In fact they would partner as right and left/left and right, in a perfect world).

The CEO would still need to be the owner and own the change, but this set up would signal to the organization that there is also an important leader to implement (and in this case the support of a senior change person who will focus on the whole, the context and the people).

What if unit and division tactical strategy scaled up?

You could edge toward this structure by creating more scale up from inside the organization to a holistic strategy.

Most companies would argue they already do this with some version of committees, executive summits, golf games etc. I have been in 70+ companies as a consultant and have yet to see any of these arrangements do anything more than quickly parse work. They all basically scale stuff up and then get parse stuff back in (maybe it is more of a grand permission process than strategy).

All strategy is not the same. Approaching transformation as if it is a program of Divisional/Business Unit work streams is status quo. Change and status quo do not blend well.

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What would be Successful Change Management?

No not what is the ROI.

No not what is the best way to measure change management.

Rather, what does success look like?

For the client:

Of course this depends on who the client is. If the client is the owner of the change, success would be getting to a version of an end state that would not have been possible without CM.  Maybe things happened faster than predicted. Maybe the change hangs on longer (or permanently) than originally expected. Maybe stakeholders feel more comfortable about the next change. (See the pattern here leaders? CM is as much about the next thing, or righting the last thing as it is this current change thing… when done successfully).

If the client is in middle of the organization then the future is set aside. Success directly correlates to elimination of roadblocks and speed to success measures (forget end states, and the next change and building anything- in the middle it is about now and tomorrow).

For the Consultant:

Lasting effect.

For that senior owner it may be that the consultant helped build competency or capability for that owners organization.

For the  middle client it may be that all those difficult people issues were handled, dealt with and then things got better.

One is strategic and one is tactical. If  you plan on being successful as a change management consultant you better be ready and able to do both. (Ironically sometimes at the same time).

Successful change management is end states that arrive better, stronger and faster than they would have without the change management consultant. OR projects simply move smoothly and fast (for those middle of the organization clients).

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The Strength of External Consultants (5 of ‘em)

Yesterday I gave you the Weakness of Internal Change Management, today the strengths of External Consultants.

First a clarification.

Not all external consultants have these strengths. I am right alongside that pessimistic leader who has been burned by a big firm or spent too much time listening to how that boutique firms approach will someday change the world and most certainly change this clients world quickly. (Yes it will, but not for what the client thought).

In the context of this post I am thinking of small firms (10 or fewer employees) and independent consultants who put together teams specifically for an engagement (often including internal resources).

OK now that we have stripped away those firms that are on a constant mission to build revenue and are talking about the firms that only get revenue with clear results we can talk about external strengths.

  1. The opposite of internal weakness is the number one external strength- the willingness, know how and experience to call things out. Usually those things are the elephants in the room. Sometimes, for the most bold of us, it is structural root causes that are making true change impossible.
  2. Ask why. This is the subtle form of calling things out. There are so many times on engagements where I ask why and I get, “because that is the way we do things.” OK. Again, “Why?”. Usually I get the exact same answer.
  3. Cover for internals. No matter how much internals want something to happen and how hard they try to make it possible there are just some things they do not have the leverage for. They RARELY have the ear of senior leaders. Were they to, a PowerPoint slide and recommendations would have to be at the ready. Most senior externals could create that on the fly as part of a conversation. AND they often have the leverage to do without the time-wasting PP session. (Internals, hint, you should be taking advantage of this rather than bemoaning the luxuries of external consulting).
  4. Mediate. The internal form of mediation carries that aura we used to have hovering over us as kids- you never really know when you are going to say the wrong thing. And when you do you are never really sure why it was wrong. Internals tend to be able to stack up a gazillion internal political things in order to use as measure to decide when to talk, when to jump in and take charge and when to tell someone else it is time to stop talking. ‘Not sure if that is change management or some sort of crowd management. Externals jump in. My family kids me that when something isn’t right or fair there is no way I would remain silent. That is a strength (and believe me a curse too).
  5. We compliment and reinforce. Because those “performance measurement systems” are just not the same as a human being telling someone, with an example, why they are good at what they do. There is not a lot of kudos-giving in organizations. And when there is it seems a carrot technique to get just a little more effort out of everyone.

So externals, have you gotten to the point in your career where you can, and can get away with, these things?

Internals, these five things you are not going to change. You can try to do them on your own (and risk your job) or you can contract with and/or leverage externals around you to fill in the blanks.

Senior leaders, take note of these five things (and the weakness of internals from yesterday). Use your externals as consultants. Or specifically call out roles as Contracting roles. You might even get a few of the five from the contractors…

Five strengths of externals: they call things out, they ask why, they help cover for internals, they mediate and they give appropriate Kudos.

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The Weakness of Internal Change Management

Some things when stripped of a bigger picture view seem to make sense and be successful.

Internal change management is an example.

Internal CM, either through CM groups or done by someone designated as such do a great job of filling in missing project management pieces.

  • They do those communications that would not have been done otherwise.
  • They provide those spreadsheets to list the people risks.
  • They “assess” the environment to find things that might get in the way (souped up people risk management).
  • They are there constantly (unbelievable the hours internal CM’s are willing to be available) accessible to provide a sense that someone is managing those hard to figure out people issues.

They are doing all those things internals see as “best practices”. Which is great. This stuff does need to be done, to some extent. Doing it without real change management can be a lot of time and effort wasted though.

In looking back at all the internal groups and individuals I have worked with (and seeing an ad for six internal change management roles at a previous client that will now sextuplicate its issues) I see one glaring weakness.

The Big Weakness

The inability to call out roadblocks is the Big Weakness.

I can no longer count the number of times I have said to myself, “why is no one calling this out?”.

Or, “why are they talking about this behind closed doors, but never addressing the root cause?”.

There is good reason NOT to call these things out. You will pay for it as an internal. You might pay for it officially in your performance review (not a team player- PS “team player” companies tend to be a little stagnant). Or you may pay for it unofficially with strange changing arrangements- you know that, “did I do something wrong?” scenario.

The higher up the chain you are the more this will cost you.

To be fair, junior consultants, contractors and externals fearful of their revenue stream do the same thing. (In my mind they are very close to being employees anyway- by virtue of their silence and/or the procurement arrangements companies have set up).

I sometimes think this whole change management career is a building of competency, capability and experience in order to learn to call things out, at the root cause, and still be able to return the following Monday to continue the contract. I also know it is the times where we don’t return on Monday that creates the ability to do this with tact (in a way that gets the root causes addressed- not just to keep the revenue stream going).

The biggest weakness of internal change practitioners is their inability to call out roadblocks at the root cause. Thanks to organizational structure and status quo this is really not their fault. And a good reason to look to externals who have boldly and tactfully called those things out in the past.

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Integrity

 

: firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : incorruptibility

Merriam-Webster

Potential client, through third party, asks candidates to complete a business case scenario exercise about a made up change. The parameters are: look at the provided spreadsheet of risks, make a risk log and explain, review this organizations change methodology and create a PowerPoint presentation that can be used to explain to internal leaders. You have four days. (no you will not be paid for this and no it is not an RFP).

If this request effects a candidates “firm adherence to a code’” then it touches integrity and should not be requested.

We are not talking about someone applying for a full tie employment role. We are talking about someone who will be called (by them) a “consultant”. And even with a full time role for what they are asking (senior consultant with 10 years experience, advanced degree etc.) the  resume would pretty clearly illustrate if this person is in the ballpark.

My own code (shared, I know, by other well practiced consultants): clients need me as much as I need them. If I am to be a contractor and the company is really only interested in contractors then I have to be a couple days short of missing my mortgage before I will sand away integrity.

Integrity, since I have shared this code with other practitioners and they too are feeling the incessant chipping away of this career, makes me want to say something about this- here certainly and, I wish, straight to the person who made up a request like this. In fact anytime strange requests get made by people within client organizations I want to get straight to the source. (Justice may tie closely with integrity).

There are so many things that clients and potential clients do that just reinforce their current problems. In this case do they really think their methodology is any different from the company next door (or for me the other 60+ approaches I have seen? You would see that experience on my resume…)? Is change management about strictly adhering to an approach? Is it even about consistency past making sure things aren’t complete-different-craziness?

A request like this says a lot about the change people, the organization and what the role would be like (I do still like these huge challenges though).

Integrity. Please don’t break our consultant codes. And please don’t ask us to break them on our own.

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Fast Change Around Us-Free Gas

TeslaChange

My favorite company on the planet (just ahead of iRobot) announced its plans for a nationwide (US) network of charging stations that Tesla owners can use… FOR FREE! That is Fast Change we can all grab on to.

I love to use visuals with my change engagements, especially when the change has some element of building over time. Maybe multiple pilots spread throughout the world, or a picture of behaviors that build on each other- anything to show the picture of this change building momentum.

As a stakeholder (I am saving my pennies for a Tesla- and I don’t even like cars, I have the SUV) watching this map get filled in is going to be thrilling:

ElectricChange

If I had that Tesla I could drive to Los Angeles for FREE!

Coming out of the grocery store the other day a Tesla pulled out of a parking spot and rolled by with that soon to be telltale sound of four tires rolling on the ground, and nothing more. I know there are other hybrids out there that are just as quiet, but somehow the Tesla is different. The Tesla is sleek, the Tesla is blazing fast and the Tesla is completely electric (not just electric when it decides to be).

As a side note: there is a movement to add sound to electric cars to make them safer for pedestrians. Please no! Can you imagine what it would be like if the majority of the cars out there were silent electric? Can’t we just teach behavior change to pedestrians as part of this engagement?

Drive from the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles for free with a Tesla. I am off to surf and see how much “free” costs now.

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