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    Entries in change (6)


    The Progressive Service and re-imagining the organization

    There are lots of fantastic aspects of being a college student - the parties, the football games, the almost complete lack of real responsibility when compared to what often comes next - the corporate world, the 9-to-5 grind, and trying reasonably hard not to screw up, (after all, all that fun in college came with a price tag, probably in the form of tens of thousands of student loans to pay off).

    But besides all the obvious fun and cool elements of student life, there is at least one other - the chance to work on projects, develop ideas, and present provocative concepts all safe in the knowledge that these ideas will usually be evaluated mostly on their creativity and inspiration, and not out in the real world where at most organizations they are likely to be met with 'That's not how we do things here' or 'That will never work' or 'Who are you again?'

    And out in the real world massive, transformational organizational re-designs almost never actually happen (and work). There is so much legacy baggage, locked-in contracts and structures, and often a substantial level of resistance to change that the change that anyone tries to make to an entrenched institution is usually incremental and small in nature.  All change is hard. Big change is just about impossible to pull off.

    With all that in mind, I recommend taking a look at a student project that focuses on the kind of massive change that is normally only talked about in the detached, theoretical setting of academia. The below presentation is titled United States Postal Service Thesis, and was created by Tom Calabrese for a Masters program. The deck, which presents some ideas and kind of radical concepts for the US Postal Service of the future, is below, and I'll have a quick comment/challenge after the break.


    Did you click through the deck? What did you think?

    A couple of things stood out to me. One, that providing, for a price, the ability to refine and tailor your own mail delivery preferences is an idea worth pursuing. And two, the more radical idea about somehow connecting the Postal Service social graph to other, more higher value add services and products.

    But the real reason why I decided to post about this was not any of the specific proposals for the USPS, but rather as it was a great reminder that we almost never spend any time thinking about re-imagining our own organizations in a similar manner. Now certainly most of our organizations don't face the same number and type of daunting problems the USPS faces, but it's also certain that we underestimate the problems, (maybe ones that have not yet even manifested), that face our organizations.

    So the challenge is this - what if you could (or had to), completely re-imagine your workplace?

    What if you were to start from a blank sheet, or close to it, and start over?

    What would you keep? What would you let go? What are you doing simply because of inertia and tradition and internal resistance to change?

    What would the 'new' organization look like?

    Have a great week all!


    The three people needed for a successful revolution

    Over the weekend I caught this interesting piece on the Kottke.org site titled, The three types of specialist, and I think it is worth taking a look at if either you are at interesting in starting your own revolution, or just want to build better teams in your organization - ones that are more likely to be successful pulling off major change initiatives. And it doesn't hurt that this week here in the US we celebrate Independence Day - our most famous revolution.

    The piece quotes from a Kurt Vonnegut book I'd not heard of or read titled Bluebeard, and the key passage describes one character's assessment of the kinds of people that are needed in order to open up people's minds to new ideas and get them to actually consider embracing change.  Rather than simply 'smart people, 'influential people' or 'powerful people', Vonnegut offers up just a bit more detail of the skills, background, and capabilities of the three critical kinds of people needed to drive change.

    Simply put, it breaks down like this:

    First - You need a true, or authentic genius. This is someone capable of generating original ideas that have not been considered previously. This is, perhaps not surprisingly, the hardest person to find.

    Second - A member of the community or organization, who is respected and has some authority (either directly via position, or indirectly via more subtle and social means), such that he or she can validate, defend, and promote the possibly crazy geniuses ideas. This person makes the genius seem less scary, and begins to create an environment where it is safe for others to signal approval or agreement with the idea or proposal for change.

    Third - The technician or implementer. This person has to have expertise in the specific technical, operational, or procedural area of the change, and the respect of the front-line people in that discipline whose live and jobs will be most impacted by the change. The technician needs to be able to translate the genius' plan and vocabulary into concepts and language that the organization can understand, and feels more comfortable with. 

    And that's it.

    Genius --> Respected advocate --> Technician.

    It is pretty easy to see where the absence of any of these critical roles would derail any substantial change in an entrenched organization of any kind.

    Without the genius and his/her ideas, well all you have are potentially incremental and insignificant changes to existing processes and products. You know, like the 'New and Improved!' laundry detergent that is simply the same old formula in a slightly larger jug.

    Without the respected advocate, the genius' ideas are not likely to get enough or lasting traction with what is almost always a skeptical and scared organization. The genius remains safely marginalized as a nut.

    And without the technician you lose in a couple of areas. You might not be able to effectively take what are often abstract genius ideas and make them actionable. Plus, the true front-line people in the organization might not now the genius and might not think the respected advocate really understands their jobs and processes enough to tell them how they should be changed. The technician bridges the gap between idea and execution.

    Genius --> Respected advocate --> Technician.

    A pretty simple formula for building a team that can actually conceive and convince people to change.

    And according to Vonnegut anyway, it's the only way to have any chance of actually pulling it off.



    It was better the old way

    Chances are pretty good that we've all accepted some version of one of following maxims in the last few years:

    Business is moving faster than ever before.

    The pace of change (technical, societal, economic) is rapidly accelerating.

    Advances in technology continue to outstrip our capacity to adapt.

    Even the personal technology that many of us have adopted - smartphones and tablets primarily, drive home this point almost every day. Once you have even a average number of Apps loaded on your iPhone, say about 20 or so, almost every day at least one or two of them has a new version for you to download.

    And if you ignore that little visual cue on the App Store icon for a week or two, you'll likely be faced with perhaps a dozen or more updates queued up and waiting.  It's quite likely that the Apps you rely on every single day, (News reading apps like Pulse or Zite, social networks like Facebook or Twitter, image Apps like Instagram or Camera+), push a brand new version out every month if not sooner.

    Even if any individual new App version by itself is not all that comprehensive or significant, when taken in the aggregate, and considering how many times per day/week you engage with these apps, that is a lot of technological change being foisted on end users. 

    But wait a second, we are supposed to loathe change, right? Particularly technology changes that are forced upon us against what we believe are our best interests and preferences.

    Push out a new Windows or MS Office upgrade in your organization and stand back to wait for the shouts of outrage.

    Dare to migrate to a new ERP or HRIS system, even a 'better' one than what is currently in place, and prepare for 12 months of 'In the old system, I knew exactly how to get that information. Now - who knows?'

    Try to migrate collaboration and interaction out from Email and into some new, 'Facebook for the Enterprise' tool and prepare for a long, slow, path to adoption, (if you ever get there).

    Our collective and individual experience and affinity with the world of Apps - with their rapid iteration, incremental changes, and persistence in nudging us along to accept those changes I believe is making us less and less 'change averse', at least when the change feels small.

    Push out a dozen small changes each year - to a technology, a process, a policy - and people get used to it, they worry less about the implications of each change, and they are more inclined to see you the creator as someone 'continually focused on making it right'.

    Drop a big, hairy, massive change on people all at once - well good luck with that and let us know how it goes.

    We hate change because too much of our experience with change has been the old way - like getting dropped into a foreign country with no understanding of the language or landscape. But chopped up and served in more incremental pieces - that is the kind of change we all are coming to expect and, maybe even embrace.

    I think that's why your Mom tried to trick you into eating your broccoli by cutting it up into the tiniest pieces possible, or mixing it into something tastier.

    NO ONE wants a plate of giant broccoli.

    Have a Great Week everyone!


    The Pace of Change

    One of the best ongoing online series on leadership and business is the New York Times fantastic 'Corner Office' interviews conducted by Adam Bryant. In each piece, Bryant talks with a company CEO about business philosophy, their thoughts around people management, and often, and of particular interest to HR and recruiting professionals, the hiring and interview process.

    In the most recent installment, Bryant talked with Harry West, CEO of the innovation design firm Continuum, and while Mr. West had some interesting things to share about interviewing and hiring -  'I ask a few very basic questions. “What is it you want to do? What is it that you’re good at? What is it that you’re not good at? Tell me about what you’ve done.”, the most intriguing part of the Corner Office piece was an observation West made about change, and specifically the speed in which change can be effected inside an organization. 

    Here's the passage from the Times article:

    Pacing is really important in an organization. When you’re leading, you’re generally trying to lead change, and I think it was Roy Amara, who said about technology, “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” And I think the same applies to change within an organization.

    Let that sink in for a second, we overestimate the impact of a (technology) change in the short run, and underestimate it in the long run. I think with the relentless, powered by social networks, 24/7 news and information cycle that can often lead to even more hype and therefore expecations about new technologies, that managing expectations and understanding an organization's ability to navigate through any significant change is more important than ever. But don't take my word for it, check what CEO West has learned about the pace of change in his career:

    And so I’ve learned that it’s critical to think carefully about the pace of change, and it’s something that I’ve learned the hard way. It’s important to manage that carefully, because it’s not just about the pace of change that certain people in the company can manage.

    It’s about the pace of change that the company as a whole can manage. You can push and push and nothing seems to happen, and then suddenly it takes off and you’re sort of running to catch up.

    Look, we all know that change management is critical in any major process, strategy, or technology program or implementation. But I think it is incredibly easy to fail to have the proper appreciation and empathy for those whose worlds our great ideas and plans are going to impact. In other words, it often isn't about your ability to handle change, ambiguity, or stress  - it's about everyone else's too.

    Neither West, nor I are advocating standing still, or waiting for the perfect conditions to effect change, but an occasional reminder that the pace of change might be equally important as the nature of the change is a good one.


    Reboot: Even Superman Can Start Over

    I've been a comic book fan, off and on, since I was a kid. You know the old question that sometimes therapists ask, about recalling one of your earliest memories from childhood? Well one of mine anyway is a vivid recollection of buying an Amazing Spiderman comic for 25 cents from a local shop.

    Image - DC Comics

    I still have that Spiderman book as a matter of fact. Looking through it recently, apart from being amused at some of the old advertisements, I was struck by how little the characters seemed to change over the years. They (mostly) look the same, act the same, and behave in ways we come to expect, and certainly appreciate.

    But after 30, 40, and for some even 50 years of stories, (referred to as 'continuity' in the comics world), even classic heroes start to look a little dated, and their writer's and artist's ability to craft stories and images that can still resonate with modern readers, (while not alienating long-term fans), gets increasingly difficult over time.

    With that inherent conflict and difficulty in mind, long-time publisher comic publisher DC Comics this fall is embarking on what is being termed a 'Reboot', they are essentially a starting over at issue #1 for all if its currently published titles, including such venerable books like Batman, Superman, and Justice League of America. This reboot or relaunch will allow DC to refresh the characters design, and in some cases, through the magic and creative freedom of the comic book form, make them younger and more contemporary. DC writers and artists can simply inject new life into some traditional characters and storylines that the public probably takes for granted from familiarity.

    It won't be easy for DC to successfully pull off this 'reboot'. Fans of these comics and heroes won't simply conveniently forget what are in some cases decades-long interactions, backstories, and emotional connections with these characters. But for DC, the desire to revive an old form of storytelling and genre, and the economic need to attract a new generation of fans to these titles are too compelling and have been deemed worthy of the reboot's risks.

    What does this little comic book story have to do with the worlds of Human Resources and the workplace?

    To me, the most compelling angle behind the 'reboot' is the human one. Sure, having Flash or Wonder Woman get a new costume is interesting, but for that to actually be successful in the marketplace, DC has to attract, recruit, develop, and reward the best artists, writers, designers, and editors it can find. These supremely talented people are the real key to whether or not this reboot, or really any major commercial initiative will be successful. And for DC, while the allure of the brand, and the ability to make a mark on legendary titles and characters like Superman and Batman surely are a recruiting magnet to some extent, eventually the very best talent will not be content simply carrying on 50-year old traditions.

    The very best talent wants to tell their own stories. 

    By 'starting over' DC is not just making a play to connect with new fans and readers, they are making a play to their talent community as well. After all, someone makes the Green Lantern green after all. It will be interesting to see how it all pans out. 

    Anyone want to compare notes on Batman #1 once it comes out?