Conserve Momentum

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Organisations are full of people who tell you to stop.

We are told to stop:

  • to wait for a meeting
  • to wait for clarity
  • to wait for approval
  • to wait for support
  • to wait for proof
  • to wait for another project
  • to wait for another business unit
  • to assess risks
  • to develop a better message, product, change, etc
  • to gain budget, resources, implementation windows, etc

Don’t stop. Momentum is a critical resource in a time of rapid change.

Change agents need to be more agile than their organisation. You can’t steer if you are not moving. Don’t let the organisational molasses slow you down. You can be sure that your opponents or competitors are not waiting for approval to proceed.

Momentum addresses support, proof and evidence.  Momentum builds clarity, inevitability and alignment.  Momentum surfaces and addresses risks. Momentum gets things done.

Waiting achieves none of these things.

Conserve momentum. Momentum will conserve you

Simon Terry  @simongterry

This post was first posted at http://simonterry.tumblr.com/post/64900537838/conserve-momentum

How to start a change movement

Change movements fascinate me.  People coming together to create change that is beyond the power of one individual, is how all of our greatest social accomplishments have been made.  I have started a few myself, both successfully and unsuccessfully.  I have studied lots of others hunting for ideas that can be reused.

I have learned that there is no perfect formula. However, these things help movements to success:

Purpose:  Defining why the movement exists matters most.  This is the reason people will give up their time and effort to be involved.  Failure to agree on common purpose will result in factions, disruption and failure later

Engaged champions: A few engaged champions is worth thousands of passive members.  Find your champions and treasure them.  Finding them is usually as simple as letting them approach you.  The ones you want will have a bias to act.  You are often better cutting the freeriders and focusing only on the engaged users in the early stages.  Exclusivity, a strong sense of the other and deep personal relationships helps build energy and resilience in the movement.

A small secretariat: A movement usually needs some group accountable for shaping and maintaining direction.  A small secretariat of the most engaged champions can play that role.  The secretariates does not need to be hierarchical but they do need to play a role as custodian of the purpose and a node for actions across the network.

Cellular structureNetworks are more resilient & more engaging than hierarchies.  Small group structures engage people and build personal connections within the network. The groups also provide local support, back-up for missed communication and solve issues locally where required.  Action by small groups requires less coordination.

Stories: Successful movements have rich storytelling traditions. Myths, tales and anecdotes help share their messages and make purpose tangible to the community and others. Stories share abstract ideas in tangible ways making them more human and personal.

Continuous communication: Driving change is only one element in people’s lives.  You cannot overcommunicate.  Share stories, successes and challenges.  Make sure there is a vibrant connection across your network.

Sense of community:  Great movements build strong senses of community.  That is usually evident in the support and sharing that occurs within the community beyond its core purpose.

Symbols of change: To understand the movements vision, you need defining symbols that people can understand and relate to their own world. A few common values can be part of a powerful symbol of the change.  The more human, personal and individual the symbols are the easier they are to live and share.

Consistent action & confrontation: Action builds movements.  Action inevitably involves confrontation with opponents.  A regular cycle of action and confrontation is required to keep engagement of the movement.  Action and confrontaction creates new stories to share and can bring the movement’s symbols and purpose to life for a wider audience. Progress may be slow but action must be continuous.

Reflection & adaptation: Successful movements adapt to changing circumstances, responses and to the needs of the system in which they operate.  Processes to foster reflection and development of new adaptations matter to enable this.

Gathering: Human beings are tribal.  We like to gather.  Whether it is gatherings of the cells or gatherings of the whole movement, the people involved need to come together and feel part of the tribe from time to time.  Gatherings are where the informal story sharing occurs.  It is where trust and connection is built, knowledge is exchanged and new innovations are started.

This list is a starting point on my studies and experience.  What are your ideas?  What have a left out?  What of the above is wrong?

Simon Terry @simongterry

Wasting People – Who Cares?

Edvard Munch-The Scream-1893“How have you been lately?” I asked recently a friend of mine, working in a large corporation. The response stroke me – “I now feel better than a while ago. I have resigned myself to the idea that I have no future in my job, in my company. I will no longer be promoted nor challenged. So, the best I can do is switch to “autopilot” at work, and invest my brain and energy in meaningful activities outside of work”.

“I feel better. I have no hope anymore about my job”

This is killing me, really. Not just because she’s my friend, and I know she’s a very valuable resource to her company, but because I’ve witnessed this oh so many times.

Every time, it’s about skilled senior professionals, in their forties or early fifties. Although committed to the company’s mission, they are led to a point where they have no choice but to emotionally disconnect from work. These people may be bitter (read anonymous evaluations of companies on Glassdoor.com, they can be cruel) – or just disengaged. It hurts them most if they’ve strongly invested their professional field before, sometimes at the expense of their personal and social life. I’ve seen this happen a lot with women, which is not surprising given the ​lack of opportunities they are offered in the corporate world. But an awful lot of men feel they’re being put aside as well.

A lack of recognition, career stagnation, inept management, meaningless pressure, bureaucratic culture, sterilized internal communication, social stratification, the unpleasant “corporate kabuki” of performance evaluation are hurting those people in their professional life and personal self-esteem. The problem is not that people leave their companies, generating high turnover; the problem is that they stay. They stay with no enthusiasm, little pride and a low, very low productivity.

Sitting on a gold mine

Corporate leaders are sitting on a gold mine and they disregard it. While striving for growth and productivity, many companies still afford the luxury to waste a major resource: their own talents. They’ve managed to have those people join, they’re paying their salaries, infrastructure, travel, communications, and so forth… and end up using a fraction only of the available intelligence and energy.

How come they don’t take the issue more seriously?

It’s not that they are not aware. Employee disengagement is everywhere. Studies and surveys pile up. The recent Gallup “State of the Global Workplace” report, showing that only 13% of employees feel engaged, has been much publicized. Thirteen per cent! Other major consulting firms come to the same conclusion (Aon plc, Hay Group) and communicate heavily on their findings.

Mainstream business literature urges companies to do something about it. Studies demonstrate that higher employee engagement leads to “greater business success, lower cost in talent recruitment, (higher) workplace creativity and customer satisfaction”. In his remarkable book “The Flat Army. Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization”, Dan Pontefract (@dpontefract) compiles enough data and case studies to demonstrate that “engagement is good”, and “disengagement is bad”. The proof is in the numbers.

Any action?

Most often unfortunately, companies do little about this issue. Constrained by habits or unable to think differently, few of them admit that it’s precisely the way they are run that causes disengagement. Hierarchy, command-and-control, organizational silos seem natural and permanent – the price to pay for efficiency. Outdated leadership models have proven good for the leaders currently in place – so why would they change? Who would be willing to relinquish their power, status or comfort?

Some organizations launch a window-dressing “employee motivation” initiative that ends up with yet another employee survey (with closed, lenient questions), a stereotyped corporate movie (featuring beautiful, diverse, happy people that look 100% fake), one more top-down newsletter, or a wide range of lip service.

Some leaders just ignore the topic and bury their head in the sand, causing a friend of mine to claim: “Man descended from apes, leaders descended from ostriches”. They express fatalism and see employees as a mass of undifferentiated, not fully reliable people which needs guidance, structure and control. Sheep need a shepherd.

At the same time, companies go on spending $$$ to attract talent from outside, because their own talents are “not good enough”. Oh, really? Regardless of perception bias (“the grass is greener elsewhere”), could it be that they’re “not good enough” precisely because they’re not engaged?

Nobody says it’s an easy task. Engagement drivers are diverse. In large corporations, it is impossible to handle well individual aspirations and please everyone. Plagued by a “support function mindset, insufficient capabilities, and a low tolerance for risk”, most HR departments are “unable to relate the ROI or business impact of their function” (McKinsey) and cannot handle the issue seriously. They can even be an additional source of frustration for employees. Forward thinking HR exist, but they have a low share of voice.

Employee disengagement can be prevented (or cured)

However, despite the difficulties, a few simple changes could turn companies into more engaging organizations. How? Through social re-engineering. Changing paradigm. Empowering employees. Thinking of them not as “resources” but as “partners”, not as uncontrollable kids but as responsible grown-ups. Supporting communities. Giving up stereotyped language. Revisiting corporate leadership culture. Becoming a social organization… sufficient substance to feed future posts — and hopefully corporate strategies, someday. Among existing great resources on line, the Change Agents Worldwide blog is full of valuable insights on the matter.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your experiences. Have you witnessed disengagement in your working environment? Has any organization you know been able to turn around the situation, to build new motivation and passion for work? How have they done?

Immersion is a Catalyst of Change

Wish you were here

When making major change finding symbols and mechanisms that help accelerate the change can be important. These elements of your change management plan act as catalysts, helping make the change occur. Jim Collins described the power of catalytic mechanisms as a vehicle to help organisations achieve goals in a classic Harvard Business Review article.

Immersion in the problem is an incredibly powerful catalyst of change in organisations. Too often change conversations can have an abstract or a theoretical flavour. Improving customer satisfaction, employee engagement or community reputation can seem like moving the needle on an intangible measure. These conversations are often lifeless. They are very different measures and conversations when you are at the edge of the organisation, face to face with those affected and discussing the issues.

Immersion changes the nature of people’s understanding of problems. Put the change agents or those doubting the need for change in the heart of the problem, face to face with the issues and people involved.  The need for change change is more tangible.  People see things with new eyes. Immersion shows you parts of the system that you have never seen before. There is nothing like being on the spot.  Immersion also delivers passion and insights that can’t be found around a conference table.

We have a lot of ways to immerse ourselves in any situation requiring change. I have seen the power of formal immersion programs that prompt reflection, discussion and action. More simply, we can eat our own dogfood. We can go to Gemba. We can know our enemies. We can manage by walking around.  We can do the work or live the life for an hour, a day or a week. We can turn back on our customer and community understanding and use our own radar to contribute to the change.

Immersion can be the easiest powerful action you can take to catalyse change. Everyone in the organisation can be involved. It can take as little as half an hour and as much as a lifetime. Put your leaders in the heart of the problem and watch the results.

Simon Terry @simongterry

Be prepared for social change

Our mental models of how things work are often a barrier to our adaptation to new capabilities.  Digital disruption will stretch our thinking in many new ways.

When railroads were first invented they were designed to be a powered form of wagon for bulk goods.  Only later did people develop the potential for railway travel, changes in communications and accelerate the distribution of fresh foods and other consumer goods. The introduction of railway travel created significant social change, demands for new resources and infrastructure, and ultimatelyinnovation in business & society. After a start as a powered wagon, innovators changed the mental model of a railway developing its potential and its impact on society as a whole.

We are in the midst of digital mobile and social revolution that is so new and widereaching we can face the same challenges in adapting our mental models. Yesterday I attended the New Economy Conference in Melbourne. The audience and speakers who had chosen to attend the event were very aware of the digital & social transformations beginning to be realised.

A key theme of the day was the impact of digital, mobile and social processes in creating dramatic improvements in connection and speed of information sharing.  This has major ramifications for markets and for corporations as they see their offerings atomised to services, boundaries becoming porous and competition expanding in speed and global reach.  Even consumers are getting into the act of being producers through collaborative consumption. These ideas resonated strongly because they connect directly with the short-term transactional focus of our industrial age mental models of production, markets and competition.  They involve the exploration of relatively simple changes to current models (who, where, what, volume or speed).

Harder for everyone to grasp are the changes to social systems which come with these new technologies and the need for new physical, legal and social infrastructure.  To run their cross-continental networks, railroads needed and inspired new social infrastructure.  An example was that railroads required society to adopt a precise concepts of time to manage their schedules.  Railroads determined the implementation of the continental United States four time zones and largely became the arbiter of time in the communities that they connected.

There is already evidence that these broader social changes are being created. Work is shifting rapidly towards creative knowledge work in many parts of the world with new demands for leadership and organisation. The acceleration of social activism was discussed on the day and the consequences of eBay, the many task allocation and collaborative consumption organisations in changing natures of trust & work.  We also discussed the social infrastructure required to measure value creation and waste in a broader more human way than just dollars (and the odd bit of avoided carbon).  We need to innovate as hard in this social infrastructure as in that to support the transactions.

As much as we create new ways of transacting, we also need to create new forms of community to supply the social infrastructure to support the transactions.  We need to support the short term interaction with a social fabric that can supply a longer human relationship.  Just as the railroads need a precise sense of time, our new economy demands new precision in ideas like collaboration, work, trust, community and value.

When we think of the future of digital disruption, we need to allow both for how it will change the mental models we use every day but also how it may demand of us entirely new models, such as new concepts of organisations, jobs, reputation, social relationships and new measures of success.   Success in the new digital era will take both adaptation to a new transactional environment but also adaptation of a new infrastructure of community, trust and long term relationships.  New models of leadership and new social innovations will be required to achieve both.

Simon Terry @simongterry