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    Entries in change (9)


    Learn a new word: fact-resistant

    Let's start with the definition, courtesy of Wordspy:

    fact-resistant adj. Impervious to reason, counter-examples, or data, especially when they contradict one's opinions or values.

    From the examples given on the Wordspy entry (on the science behind global warming, politics in the Middle East, violence due to firearms), the term fact-resistant seems to have been most commonly applied or ascribed in these kinds of political or 'hot-button' kinds of contexts. I suppose using the term fact-resistant is a slightly kinder and gentler way of saying. 'What the heck is wrong with you, you big dummy. Can't you just accept the truth of what I am telling you?'

    But where fact-resistant is likely to be more relevant and applicable in the HR/workplace/talent management worlds are the conflicts and tensions that can arise between the data and analytics camps and the folks who prefer (or are just more comfortable with), the traditional or old-school ways of evaluating, assessing, and managing people.

    Here are a few specific scenarios where you, as a modern, progressive, and 'seen Moneyball six times' HR pro might run into some fact-resistant colleagues:

    The hiring manager that 'just can tell from looking in the candidate's eyes' whether or not they should be hired. He's been managing by 'gut feeling' for so many years, why should he change now? What does it matter what your data shows about what sources, backgrounds, and characteristic of candidates predict better performance? 

    The CEO who 'gets a good feeling' when she walks around the office at 8AM (and again at 5PM), and sees cube after cube of people diligently working. She is not interested in hearing about your data that shows that engagement, retention, and productivity would all be improved by the introduction of more flexible working arrangements. Everyone looks happy to her, so why make changes?

    The Chief Operating Officer that doesn't care that your compensation benchmarking data shows that you are trailing the market in some key areas and job roles - those same places and roles where your data also shows increased attrition and longer time-to-fill open roles than in less important areas. The COO just want to ensure that 'we pay just a little below market' to ensure stable and consistent gross margins. Peg everyone to '5% below market' and stop bugging me about this.

    I think you get the idea. But the trouble with these fact-resistant types is not identifying them, it is trying to figure out how to rebut them. Because your normal and expected recourse is to just present more facts. And by definition, this probably isn't going to help very much.

    Maybe appealing to the end results, the outcomes, instead of the math and data needed to get there is the best bet. Rather than hitting them with dashboards or spreadsheets that try to sell your idea, just go big on how you know how to fix the problem with X, Y, or Z, and how they will not only benefit, but also look like a hero in the process. 

    The fact-resistant types are tough though. I still think the Knicks are a title contender this year.

    I don't care what the numbers say.

    Have a great week!


    The Mindset List

    I am such a mark for Beloit College's annual Mindset List, a look at some of the important and sometimes really surprising changes that have occurred in the last 18 years or so, or expressed differently, just how much differently this year's crop of college freshmen have experienced and view the world compared to us older folks.

    Right off of the bat, Beloit reminds us that this new group of students, (mostly born in 1987), have never known a world where hybrid cars were not mass produced, South Park has not always been on TV, and among those who have never been alive in their lifetimes are Princess Diana, Notorious B.I.G., Jacques Cousteau, and Mother Teresa.

    The Mindset List is always an interesting read every year, but the odd thing about the list is that while it describes and highlights the world view and perspectives of 18 year olds, they are the ones who are likely the least interested in the actual contents of the list. Their world and world view is just what it is. They don't stop to try and think of or conjure up a time where free Wifi did not exist in every Starbucks in the world. It is the modern version of the classic 'I had it much worse than you' line that every parent in every generation for the entire history of time has at one point leveraged to try to make their children feel guilty about how good they have things.

    I am serious, the first evidence of this phenomenon in recorded history was from some primitive cave drawings and inscriptions found in France. Loosely translated, they read, 'Sure kid, it's so easy to kill that antelope with that accurate, sharpened spear. When I was your age, all we had to fight for our lives with was a big rock.'

    These kinds of admonitions have only weakened over time. I can recall on more that one occasion lamenting to my son that he did not understand how good he actually had things, since when I was his age my TV remote WAS ACTUALLY ATTACHED TO THE TV WITH A LONG CORD.

    Hard times for sure.

    There are some real gems on the Mindset List for this year of course, here are a couple of my personal favorites. Incoming college freshmen:

    They have never licked a postage stamp.

    When they were born, cell phone usage was so expensive that families only used their large phones, usually in cars, for emergencies.

    Their proud parents recorded their first steps on camcorders, mounted on their shoulders like bazookas.

    There are plenty more gems like that on the list, and I recommend taking a few minutes to take a look at the entire piece.

    I know it is a little obvious, and maybe seems kind of unimportant to most of us but it is really, really easy to lose sight of just how much the world and technology and society and work and everything else changes in a relatively short time. 

    It is good, no matter how old or young we are, to think about how folks not quite like us see and understand the world.


    Stable, but not still

    So this past Sunday morning I have to admit getting caught up in a several hour Law & Order marathon - that staple of American basic cable TV. To the unnamed friend of mine who got me hooked on these old dramas - thanks, I was probably watching too much English soccer anyway.

    On one of the episodes the District Attorney dropped a fascinating line about a theory of law that he subscribed to, something along the lines that while there always will be fundamental principles that form the foundation of law, (and right and wrong), that changes in society, technology, values, etc. over time, demanded that the law be flexible and changeable over time.

    This concept in law was first popularized (as far as my 8 minutes of extensive research was able to ascertain), by the American legal scholar Roscoe Pound, who said, famously, that "The law must be stable, but it must not stand still."

    Pound contended that the law should adapt, slowly, to changes in society, and argued against the idea that the law should try to force or influence society to change. Pound fought the notion of a largely unchanging Common Law, a position not always in the majority then as now.

    Why bring this up? 

    Because the Pound maxim, "The law must be stable, but it must not stand still" could just as easily apply to most of what we do in HR and talent management and in trying to lead in organizations today. It is really easy and fun and less restrictive to talk only about radical change and disruption and need to move 1,000 MPH in modern business, but the truth is very few organizations are architected to operate in that manner, and even the ones that do probably fail as often as not.

    Pound's take, that have a stable, (Note - 'stable' is not the same as 'rigid'), while simultaneously understanding the need to change, to evolve, to in his words, to not 'stand still', is about the most practical advice for the vast majority of organizations and settings today.

    Stable, but not still. I dig that. Nice, shot Roscoe.

    Now, back to the last hour of the Law & Order marathon...

    Have a great week!


    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.