Tag: change

The four essential preconditions for system transformation

Front foot, Improvement, Noble Purpose No Comments

Around this time last year I was reflecting in a concert. I discovered FRE. Focus. Responsibility. Example. Three attributes for organisation success. That framework has guided my work this year. And carries on into 2017. I have had much positive feedback about it.

Last month, away from home, on a morning run along the Thames, I was thinking…

I work helping systems improve. This support can be in my main sectors, be it fashion or conservation; education or health. Or it might be in the events I run, from team time outs to larger conferences; individual coaching to speaking. I am concerned with helping the smaller temporary systems, such as in a workshop. I am also focused on improving the larger, well-funded and enduring systems, such as a fashion supply chain or a programme on bio-diversity.

After over 30 years helping in complex environments I have identified four pre-requisites for system success. You might even imagine these as four bases to get a ‘home’ run. Four capabilities that are needed to be widespread in a system for progress. Or you can consider them as a personal manifesto – highlighting the four personal disciplines leaders in all roles need for achievement. They are shared here to help us all make different and better choices.

I summarise them as CHHH. That is curiosity, holistic (whole-sighted) attention, honesty and hope.

Let’s unpack these four themes a little. Each helps progress. I have had positive comments on this from some of the many people I know who are working hard for improvement from deep within the systems they are committed to.

CURIOSITY

Deepening curiosity helps us get beyond certainty and avoid hubris. There can be a pretence of motivation. There may be an interest in innovation in one’s own work, that is undermined by the failure to search out and copy what others are doing. In my decades of practice, I think low curiosity is the most striking and common observation – it limits progress, it leads to ‘reinvention of the wheel’ and the consequent waste.

Addressing a low ‘pull’, where colleagues are not bothered and not interested in what others are doing is hard. Ways to fan the flames of interest maybe through protected study time and positive reinforcement, including awards for copying! Crucially, leaders need to model curiosity themselves – asking questions, showing they prize imitation as much as invention, avoiding routine pet answers, working in a spirit of humility and avoiding arrogance.

Curiosity gets us on the journey. But it is only the first base.

HOLISM

Once there is some curiosity, then finding ways to see the whole is important. However, looking beyond one’s own tribal allegiances can be a challenge. Building empathy with ‘the other’ is difficult. However, this is critical if the system is to operate for the end user or end purpose, and not the ‘core group’ who have much to benefit from things as they are. Connection is personal, and takes time to develop and deepen. Spending time exploring WITOS (what is the other side) is key.

HONEST

The ‘third base’ is concerned with enabling important discussions beyond positioning and spin – having critical conversations

This is important for authentic attempts to make things better rather than cosy speaking in the groove, repeating nice sounding platitudes. This might involve a risk – especially when systems have a habit of spewing out whistle-blowers as ‘troublemakers’. Prophets and Radicals (tempered or otherwise) need to be sought and valued. Curiosity and Holism helps to nurture the empathy necessary for honesty.

HOPE

Finally, and maybe paradoxically given the tone of this piece so far, being positive is important. Burnout is a risk in system work. It is easy to end up with no hope for the system or even for oneself. Accepting critique, but looking beyond criticism and cynicism is the better route. Being personally buoyant in the face of all that needs to be done. Looking to encourage each other.

I increasingly use these ideas (CHHH) as a frame and even as ‘ground rules’ in my workshops.

I find them a useful diagnostic tool too.

If systems are perfectly designed to deliver what they achieve, then the basic design rules need to be shifted. Might CHHH help?

Inertia and entropy are design flaws to be addressed. If something seems impossible, start small. Where does CHHH point you?

So, I offer CHHH a way to start or sustain the journey of improvement.

Travel well.

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Making the hard stuff easy?

Improvement, Personal productivity, Teams No Comments

You have probably come across the business adage, “the soft stuff is the hard stuff”. Like a number of famous quotes, is not quite clear to me who first coined the term – there is quite a lot on it online. But was it Covery? Enrico? Anyhow…

When thinking about organisations I like the distinction between structure, process and behaviour.

In one meeting last week I was challenged: “so, are you an organisational behaviourist?” Normally, I prefer to use Edgar Schein’s language and see myself as a ‘helper’ – and not even an OD specialist or Change Manager, which LinkedIn endorsements tend to say I am. So, I wasn’t sure I wanted the Organisation Behaviourist tag. But I guess I am the OB title. I see behaviour as key for it provides the physiology of organisational life – ways of working that can make any ‘anatomy’ work, or not. If I ask people to think of a leader they admire or a team that is performing well, and then write what it is about them down that impresses them, it is clear that the vast majority of the positive attributes are attitudes not technical skills, behaviour not knowledge.

There are some notable approaches to orchestrating behaviour shifts through ‘nudges’. Also, there is lots of training offered to change behaviour – from ‘difficult conversations’ to ‘line management’ to ‘team working’.

For me, the most significant improvements in organisation come from a disciplined focus on behavioural improvements around R and E in FRE – that is ‘responsibility’ and ‘example’. But I know from my work that the ongoing curiosity and empathy that is needed for this sort of sustained shift isn’t easy to generate and maintain.

A recent HBR study shows that even the most thoughtful training approaches bring about minimum behavioural changes long term, in the absence of a shift in the example of senior leaders. This makes sense – at least it confirms the finding from my decade-old research about getting values into practice, see this.

So these ‘soft’ shifts are hard. That is clear.

On a recent trip to Australia I saw a new way of promoting a long lasting shift in the culture of organisations in action. I saw it at work in settings as diverse as a bank, a commonwealth department and in a food manufacturing plant. The ‘Blue Bus’ approach started out in steel manufacturing and mining. It is spreading. It is a sticky idea. There is a pull. It seems to be passing the Chili Test. It makes the distinction between ‘hardware’ and ‘software. Between the ‘spaces’ leaders regularly ‘play’ like strategy, tools and systems and the area that is really needed for individual, team and organisational performance: mind-set, values and behaviour.

If you are in Asia or the Pacific (or even Australia!) and want to find out more, do let me know – I can make an e-intro. As there is deliberately almost nothing about it online. And, looking ahead, the guys (in a gender neutral sense) will be over in Europe in 2017.

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Are you FREe?

Checklists, Front foot, Improvement, Organisations, Reflect, Teams, Think, Values No Comments

Earlier this week I attended a concert at Kings College Chapel. As I sat there in the dark stillness a storm raged outside that rattled the ancient doors as a nearby college clock chimed the hour. I recalled how exactly 27 years before I had first been in that place.

I remembered I had been a little shocked to find myself in higher education – as a working class lad who struggled a fair bit at school. Yet in my mid 20s I had applied to study at tertiary level. When interviewed, some of the alternative angles I shared from my experience as a front line NHS worker, plus the insights from my union activism seemed to appeal to those who selected students.

Over the years I have found sitting in that building to be a powerful place for reflection during times of significant personal change.

So, I was thinking – but on this occasion about my work. My studies all those years ago were the start of my deeper interest in how organisations perform (or don’t). Over the last few months I have been crystallising what I now know about institutions – from larger networks to smaller teams, from commercial enterprises to noble purpose initiatives – based on my experience of working across sectors and continents. What makes an organisation worthy of commitment? What are the features that make them likely to succeed? And fail?

After a quarter of a century, I think there are just three things that are crucial. I summarise these with the word FREe (actually FRE, as you will see below).

Firstly, FOCUS. Is the purpose of the organisation shared? Is the strategy clear – is it understood? Has the governing group set out its intentions (and limitations) for the wider staff to work toward and within? Do individuals know how their particular role contributes – and do they realise where their personal motivations fit, and where they do not?

RESPONSIBILITY: are staff expected to use their initiative to sort out issues? Do they have freedom to act? Do governing boards avoid overstepping the mark and resist micro-managing the executive – and do line-leaders avoid constraining their staff with overly detailed instructions or the expectation of involvement in all decisions? How clearly are all staff held to account for how they have used their autonomy?

Crucially, EXAMPLE highlights the role of senior leaders in setting the cultural tone for an enterprise plus the part played of line managers in re-iterating this – and the importance of peers in reinforcing the ‘right’ behaviours. Most of us are not saints or sinners, rather we absorb the ways others work. This extends from basic ‘pro-social’ interactions to do with decency and civility through to the modelling of focus and responsibility and other important attributes like curiosity. ‘Example’ also concerns how the implied attitudes at the core of a business’s purpose are demonstrated by staff in their dealings with each other as much as with customers: be that caring in the case of health services, learning for an education provider or speed for a high street fashion brand, for example.

I am discovering how this simple framework is powerful in a range of settings.

It helps individuals: it is useful in ways from coaching leaders through to prompting those being interviewed for new jobs to ask useful (and interesting) questions.

With teams it is a checklist to test that the platform for achieving positive results is in place.

For organisations it highlights three important factors to work to get right in all places – to ensure well-served customers, content staff and a fulfilled mission.

Are you ready for FREe business?

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NPO: The A List

Noble Purpose No Comments

A recap:
– Working in Noble Purpose Organisation can be much harder than imagined.
– Though when it works, the experience is hugely rewarding for those working in the organisations as well as those served.
– There is a real potential for disillusionment and cynicism from frustrated expectations.
– This experience of challenge (and uncertainty) can lead to burnout and the tolerating of poor practices.
– Leading NPOs are very hard management ‘gigs’, requiring the most skilled team and organisational leaders.

The A list?

The things to keep checking on and working towards
– The necessary Alignment: agreement about direction and priorities. Between strategy and operations; between divisions; between organisational and personal priorities.
– The appropriate Attitudes: that the desired behaviours are clearly spelt out, embodied by senior staff and reinforced in who is hired (and fired), rewarded (or warned), promoted (and demoted).
– The need for Accountable Autonomy: encouraging initiative, within the frameworks of Aligned purpose and suitable Attitudes.

And the critical A? Building Awareness of what is expected, and how that fits (or doesn’t) with personal motivations and goals, from the philanthropic to the those for personal gain. Spending time talking about some of the tensions and issues is at the heart of this. Hearing what others have to say. Examining the experiences of working in a NPO. Building a culture of supervision and mentoring? Stepping back from ‘fire-fighting’ – and avoiding ‘navel gazing’. Keep learning.

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Are you involved or committed?

Engagement No Comments

Do you know the fable of breakfast – from the point of view of the chicken and the pig? There is lots about it online these days – as an analogy for thinking about engagement in change.

Wikipedia summarises the basic tale as a riddle.
“Question: In a bacon-and-egg breakfast, what’s the difference between the Chicken and the Pig?
Answer: The Chicken is involved, but the Pig is committed!”

I was working with an international group recently where a number didn’t eat pork and others avoid eating meat. But they liked the metaphor when someone mentioned it.

So we had a go at finding other metaphors for the basic idea.

Where did we get to?

“What is the difference between the key ingredients in a cheese salad ? The lettuce is committed and the cow involved”.

Now to find a vegan version…

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NB Disclaimer – no animals (or vegetables) were harmed in making this blog

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The mosquito and the meeting

Checklists, Personal productivity No Comments

The night before the start of an important 3 day meeting.

At 2am.

A mosquito arrives.

Buzzing my ears.

I tried some things suggested by colleagues (catching it with the light off, looking for it with the light on, putting a light on in another room to attract it…). None of them seemed to work – but maybe there was more than one mozzie! The next night I would be fine – with an anti-mosquito machine to plug in and infuse the room with smelly vapour.

But on this night…? Before a crucial meeting? An event was already on my mind…

I decided to ignore it – and even sort of welcome it and the warm night it was part of. I drifted back to sleep – a buzzy, dozy sort of sleep.

The lesson? When we have a problem, do pool the ideas for solving it. Meetings can help that.

But sometimes we have to draw a line and move on. A meeting might work but groups of people can get stuck and demotivate individual action and movement, if not very carefully handled.

Caution: meeting, handle with care.

****
ON MEETINGS…

A recent blog about formal meetings from Roy Lilley.

And a tweet of one way of thinking about meetings.

****
ON SLEEP….

And a method for getting to sleep from my psychologist colleague Steve Bagi:

Work through this when you have finished all you need to do. It is an exercise which helps to clear the thought congestion of so many things in our minds.

While in bed in the dark…

1…identify three-four things that you can hear e.g fan, clock

2…identify three-four things that you can see e.g. some street light, shadow

3…identify three-four things that you can physically feel e.g blanket on me, pillow

Then ask yourself the question “what do I want to do now” with the answer “I want to go to sleep”.

This should clear some of the congestion.  Repeat as many times as needed.

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The leading edge of change?

Improvement No Comments

There are many ideas and theories on change – we even manage to profile a selection ourselves.

A couple of things we like are:
1) The saying from Goldratt: Every improvement is a change, but not every change is an improvement
2) Noting that after all the models, there are only two types of organisational change: Type One, where you are ‘merely’ asked to work in fresh ways; and Type Two, where some sort of change effort threatens the on-going offer of that job you need to pay your bills. This video is a great (powerful and fun) illustration of type 2 by Webb and Mitchell.

Social movements have been a bit trendy for about 5-10 years now as a way of thinking about voluntary change in modern organisations and complex systems….however, as this shows, this self-organising, mass approach has a long history…one that pre-dates the 20th Century interest in CHANGE!

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Global customer service??

Personal productivity, Values No Comments

From this hotel chain customer service programme (see the third section: People-ology) marketed nicely to staff with this high end video production (which, by the way, I think is making a difference to my experience of their hotel group)….

…to this concern for important consumer issues around the world from the campaigning organisation CI.

From the sublime to the ridiculous? From the service to the haves, to the exploitation of the have not’s?

Consumers? Users? Buyers? People?

‘Customers’ unite??

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Venns in action: Where is the horsemeat in health care?

Values No Comments

Over the last few weeks there have been a number of key stories in the UK press. Two are especially notable: the Francis inquiry into health care standards and the scandal of unlabelled horse meat in burgers and ready meals.

What do these have in common, other than their prevalence in media minutes and column inches?  Both are about unexpected and once hidden failings in the quality and supply of a good service.  Both raise issues of legality and individual practice. Both raise issues about who you can trust in the supply chain – in terms of both its management and regulation.

Where do they differ? One affects human health. And the other is not a lot more than a bit of a yuk to many – and only worthy of a laugh.

Sadly, the NHS story is the one that is more profound. Already there are politicians in Europe decrying the scrapping of perfectly ‘good’ food (if labelled differently), at a time when increasing numbers of people face food insecurity. The health care stories raise issues that are, surprisingly to some, more rotten and that can’t be labelled away quite so easily.

Many are now talking much more worriedly and openly about health care culture and standards – probably a good thing.

In contrast, the horsemeat scandal has largely led to plenty of photo humour – and is already leading to improvements in supply chains that value more local sourcing and fair trade.

So, maybe the question is not ‘where is horsemeat in health care’, but

1) ‘why the scandal in health care’ (maybe it is a result of the sort of management promoted since the mid 80s…an example of values in action where generalist leaders have been promoted to achieve a certain narrow set of things, and have done so pretty well) and

2) what can be done especially at a time when no individuals are being held accountable by Francis.

To help think about this second question we will go somewhere pretty unsavoury – but illuminating too. Where might that be? From one animal to another. Not dodgy cuts of horse, but what comes out of a doggy. Something has changed quietly and profoundly on UK streets, namely the cleaning up of dog mess…more on this analogy later (but in the meantime, can you guess what the learning points are – let us know).

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Improving improvement: mindset, making it happen and measurement

Measurement No Comments

In many sectors we find some of the ideas of ‘continuous improvement’ ring true: and there is growing curiosity from quality, to Six Sigma to Lean.

We think this is the single best page (with a number of resources and videos) to get you into some of the simple concepts for an improvement mindset – thanks to IHI for posting this freely.

And also from health care, we like this video from the NHS Institute that helps health care workers think about the measurement to know if any attempt at change is an improvement.

Why so much from health care? Well leaders and improvement specialists in that sector have had to work very hard to ensure the attraction and acceptability of these ideas to colleagues who are not ‘scientific management’ geeks and experts. And we think they have done that pretty well.

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