What’s your behavorial architecture?

We spend a lot of time on strategy, technology, and operations planning exercises. And yet, the area that gets the least attention and that has perhaps the most impact is in planning behaviors, especially around decision making. Instead of really getting clear on the way humans make decisions, we revel in process flows and decision diagrams, as if robots were going through the motions and the decisions were bespoke.

Maybe we just don’t like the ‘idea’ of social engineering or defining behaviors in that way, but all change management programs or transformation programs contain an element of architecting behavior. The challenge is especially hard when the new behaviors require different decision making or when loci of power and control move – which happens in pretty much every transformation project!

By being explicit and intentional about the behavioral architecture associated with your transformation, I suggest you can see better results.  We know that behavior changes in adults when expectations are clear, when they are allowed to iterate through new behaviors routinely, and when they can learn by doing. Tying new behaviors to visible results is required as well. Thinqshift has done a good job of quickly hitting some of the highlights in this video, emphasizing the need to create a behavioral architecture that will drive success. Check it out !

Local Culture Eats Change Management for Dessert

After some great discussion with colleagues and friends about my last blog post on local versus corporate culture, I realized that if local culture eats corporate culture for lunch, it has change management for dessert. That’s because change management tends to focus on individual change, neglecting the power of the collective outside of a corporate construct. I think both individual and collective approaches are necessary, but here’s the challenge. You can measure and report out on how many people have been through training, received communications, and even those who are exhibiting behavioral changes. It is much trickier to figure out how to manage and report on organizational change that gets at local culture.

At the same time, change management delivered via external consultants has to rely on “deliverables” and “roadmaps” – that’s how the contracts are constructed. As a result, going into local cultures and figuring out change management approaches that will deal with highly local resistance points is impractical.

I think change management has a lot of value, and I’ve seen some tremendous work delivered by my colleagues in the field. But I think we have to be practical about the power of local culture, and work through how to leverage and incorporate it into change programs rather than going for a ‘one size fits all’, or worse, a ‘one size fits corporate’ approach. That’s the kind of challenge I love to wrap my head around, and to think about what happens when you are able to get everything firing on all cylinders locally and globally. It is exciting to think about, right?

Bring on the hurt – big change isn’t meant to be easy

Is your organization priming itself for a signficant change?  Is there a consultant whispering in your ear that they can make it easy, painless, sure to succeed? Be honest, are you the consultant whispering that? Are you the client who is buying that? Or are you the client who is saying “we need transformational change, but I don’t want anyone to know about it because it would be too disruptive?”

Have you ever gone through a truly transformational change that hasn’t hurt a little bit, caused some disruption personally or professionally?  Even the best changes take some struggle, some soul searching, and some hard work, together with some distraction from the work right in front of you. It is OK if your clients know it, if your employees know it, and if your shareholders know it – be proud of undertaking something bold and hard.

What isn’t OK is if it isn’t clear why and how you are doing it. Set the expectation that it will be hard but that you are committed to seeing it through, and start telling your new narrative every change you get. Anchor on and reinforce the future until it becomes the current reality.  When it gets hard, realize that you are making progress, and if it never gets hard realize that perhaps everyone else is just politely listening to you but not really changing how they work.

Transformation? I’m not sure that means what you think it means.

Lately it seems like everything is “transforming” (when it isn’t being “disrupted”).  There’s transformative change, transformation of businesses, and a need to transform or “have a transformation”.  It often sounds very glamorous and exciting. It is also often described to me as being something being done for other people.  As in “the only way we can transform our business is if everyone (else) starts doing things differently.”  It is rare that someone says to me “we have to transform our business and that means I have to start doing things differently.”

That’s where I have a problem. For me, transformative change means that I feel three very conflicting emotions, and they materialize in my stomach (so I guess I could go on a “transformation diet” hmm…)

  1. I feel excitement that gives me butterflies in my stomach
  2. I feel anxiety that makes my stomach do flip flops
  3. I feel a sense of loss that is gut wrenching

If any one of those is missing, it is usually not what I would call transformative. It might be a big change, but it isn’t rocking my world. I have to be willing to own getting myself right with all three of those emotions to step out of my comfort zone and start to do thing differently, and to help the people around me to do thing differently.

Maybe that’s not everyone’s definition, but that’s what I mean when I say I’m working on transformation, and I challenge my clients to think in those terms. I get that it isn’t easy – especially the 3rd one. But transformation should be hard – otherwise it isn’t that big of a deal, right?

Think your employees are engaged? You are probably wrong. And likely you aren’t very engaged yourself.

Back in August I published a link to a Gallup poll on employee engagement that had some pretty miserable results.  Out of 150,000 workers surveyed, 52% were ‘disengaged’, and 18% were ‘actively disengaged’. Sounds ominous, doesn’t it?  What about you? Are you engaged in your work?  I heard a CEO recently refer to work as the ‘horrific concession’ we all eventually make, when we concede that the majority of our waking hours will be spent at work.  His goal is to make that time as fulfilling as possible for people.  The Gallup poll would indicate that he has a big mountain to climb (aside: he seems to be doing it – his company is one of the best to work for by almost all measures).

A friend recently brough to my attention an article in Fast Company by Mark C. Crowley where he takes a closer look at the results. It is worth a read, as he recounts his interview with a Gallup researcher who monitors employee engagement in the US.  More recently, also in Fast Company, Ian Clough talks about ways to turn the tide. He gives a few good places to start:

  1. Make it personal: Leaders need to connect directly, as human beings, in a sincere and motivating way.
  2. Employees make the difference: Employees have to be involved in planning, delivery, and follow up – they must have a place at the table for engagement to take hold.
  3. Find an anchor and plant it: Find something that connects people to the very fiber of the organization and make sure they all ‘get it’.
  4. When going global, don’t go overboard: Be culturally aware, but don’t feel compelled to tweak everything that you do for every country you touch – there is value in consistency in messages and format.
  5. Measure consistently: Find the things that matter most and measure them periodically.

I would add to measure qualitatively as well as quantiatively, but that of course is my bias as a qualitative researcher.  I would also avoid the allure of measuring to much too often, because you will run the risk of squelching engagement by over-monitoring.

Both articles are worth a read, have a look and see for yourself.

The St. Louis Org Development Community

For the second year in a row, I’m attending a program put on by the St. Louis Organizational Development Network.  What a great group of people who are passionate about organizational development!  Today’s focus is on the tie between OD and strategy, which is an interest of mine as well.  They did a great breakout led by Paradigm Consulting on how to apply some techniques of engaged strategy development to clarify the ODN mission, vision, and strategy for the members.  Great way to use the time, keep the energy up, and inspire membership commitment and understanding.

ODN Mission Vision Strategy


Why I love resistance

Last week I was in a meeting with some clients talking about culture change. The thing about intentionally changing a culture is that it smacks of social engineering, which is exactly what it actually is; it is just that people don’t like to say that out loud. While we were chatting, I made the comment that “I love resistance”, which provoked some laughter, and someone said “you are the first person I’ve ever heard say that”.

Here’s why I love resistance:

  1. It means people care
  2. It means people are listening
  3. It means change is actually happening

Too often I hear clients say things like…… ‘we need to change, but we don’t want anyone to know’, or ‘what we are really doing is a huge change, but we want it to feel small to everyone’, or ‘we are packaging this as a technology change, but we are really changing the entire culture of the business’.

These elusive tactics are great for creating almost no resistance, because you aren’t actually asking anyone to do anything particularly productive in terms of change. You are asking them to carry on, but do it differently. If you aren’t willing to provoke resistance, you probably aren’t really willing to change.

Change management has created a veneer of a neat and tidy process through which people can easily step from one place to another, with predictable and manageable (and measureable) results. While this has helped to organize our approach and design of change experiences, it has had an unintended consequence of giving senior managers the idea that change can be risk free, a jaunty endeavor filled with happy smiling people, one in which bad things don’t happen, because it has all been so beautifully managed. Resistance is the inconvenient truth in all of this. If your change effort never encountered resistance from anyone, you probably didn’t really change very much. When you see or feel resistance to something you know is important to your business, lean into it. It is the best indicator that you are actually going somewhere.

Reminded of the great Elise Boulding today


I’m attending the Engaged Communication conference in Aspen, Colorado this weekend. During the kick off, Dr. Gregg Walker gave a great keynote about his work with collaborative learning. He included a great reference to Elise Boulding, and her work (before it was cool) on organizational connectedness.  I’ve always loved her thoughts on complexity, which reminds me to continue to resist the managerial reductionist instincts that seem to be so tightly woven into my professional affiliation.

Here it is:

“We can’t simplify the world. There’s no wand we can wave to remove the complexities
around us…  So, in a profound sense, we have to take responsibility for  living on the planet.”

I’m curious today about curiosity

For a long time now I’ve been writing about needing to change how we change – as individuals and as organizations.  Again and again I hear clients and colleagues talk about how hard it is to change. Here’s the thing. For naturally curious people, change isn’t all that hard.  One of the hardest things for me to accept in an organization is a lack of curiosity – about what could be if change happened, but also about what’s happening on the other side of the cubicle wall.  So maybe we need to think about how we foster curiosity in people, so when change comes, it isn’t quite so daunting.

Too often I encounter organizational structures where everyone is so focused on their own thing, and they let years just slip by without growing. It is the consultant that has stayed on the same account in the same type of role for 10 years, or the operations manager who runs a top notch call center but doesn’t know the company stock price, or the Sales VP who drives a world class sales organization, but isn’t really sure how the product works. It is OK to specialize, for sure, and there’s great value in it – it isn’t that these people aren’t are high performers. Their focus has value, and they easily offer 101 rationals for not knowing more about the business – not enough time, under resourced, pressure from management, leadership doesn’t model the right behavior, etc.  But at the end of the day, we can all make an individual choice to be curious about what’s happening around us. I meet people every day who haven’t learned anything new in 10 years except by happenstance – they happen to be standing around when something new hits them in the head. They are bright, energetic, hard working, and committed people – good people.  But they just don’t find ways to explore what’s going on in other parts of the world that is their company. Sometimes they don’t even know the name of the person who has been sitting  two doors down from them for years.  And we wonder why organizations struggle with collaboration, innovation, and growth.  If people aren’t curious, those things will always remain elusive.

In the last few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of working with two of my company’s largest clients and interacting with some very curious people.  Like their less curious counterparts, they are bright, energetic, hard working and committed. But they have that extra spark that makes them wonder about what could be, and they know that to visualize that, they have to be willing to learn about other parts of world around them.  Both of these clients are global, complex, and daunting, and the people I’m talking about are under resourced and over taxed by their leadership, just like everyone else. But curiosity is in their DNA, and you know it as soon as you meet them. One is in his 20s, another is in her 30s, and two are in their 40s – age doesn’t matter when it comes to being curious. And it isn’t about getting distracted or having trouble focusing – these people soak it in and apply what they learn every day to their task at hand, and they use what they take in to think critically about the problems they face in their own roles. They aren’t going around getting into other people’s business – quite the opposite.  They focus on excelling at what they do while understanding the larger context in which they exist.

Working with them over the last few weeks has reminded me of how very critical curiosity is to the success of an organization.  I want to surround myself with people who continually push themselves to learn new things, to explore what others know and do, and who put themselves in positions to do different things.  People who go to classes in random subjects, or who go spend a day in a different office just to find out what’s happening over there.  People who are curious.

When was the last time you moved yourself to a learning place?  What happened when you did?

Critical Thinking