Five Not-So-Radical Ideas For Nurturing Change

When everything around is constantly changing, it is easy to:

  • Get carried away by latest fads, best practices etc.
  • Execute changes that may not be significant in shifting results to positive direction
  • Implement solutions to half-baked problem statements
  • Isolate people affected by change in a rush to just change things
  • Get confused between change and transformation initiatives

We often see this happening all around us. There is so much conversation going on about change and transformation that it is easy to get carried away when the “Big WHY” of change is not clear.

In this context, I read Paul Taylor’s latest post titled “Three Simple Ideas To Stop Change Failing” where he offers not so radical ideas to ensure that change does not fail. He emphasizes on importance of mindset, getting influence devolved to people closest to change, change through small experimentation and not initiating change without a clear problem statement and some evidence that proposed solution will result in net positive business outcome.

These are simple ideas, but powerful ones. Simplicity after all is not all that flashy and it takes far more thinking and work to simplify things. Which is probably why we take the easier route of adding complexity, heh!

Here are a few excerpts from Paul’s post:

change is best served when we devolve power, and the institutions and hierarchy get out of the way

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Our change programmes rarely answer the question “Why are we changing?” in a truly coherent way.

This – combined with our cultural bias for execution over problem definition – is why change often fails. We may solve a problem – just not the right one.

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And here’s a quick sketch note summary of key ideas from the post:

Related Posts on Managing Change

Mindset Shifts For Organizational Transformation

Businesses are struggling to keep the pace with rapid rate of change and disruption around. To keep up with the change, businesses try to diversify into newer areas, build products and services to cater to new market needs and innovate. Organizations on their transformation journeys cannot afford to rely only on the technology innovations because innovation is a result of something more deeper – innovation is a result of mindset, behavioral constructs, leadership and culture.

At ThoughtWorks blog, Aaron Sachs and Anupam Kundu have written an excellent post titled “The Unfinished Business of Organizational Transformation” where they outline the mindset shifts required when transforming the organizations to be more adaptable and agile.

(HT to Helen Bevan for sharing the post.)

While you can read the full post here (highly recommended), I created a quick sketch note to outline the shifts in our mindset and behavioral constructs to nurture change and enable organizational transformation.

Related Posts and Sketch notes:

Change: The Power of Gradual

In a fast paced environment, we notice things that are urgent, immediate and abrupt in nature. We forget to notice the gradual.

One small serving of unhealthy food doesn’t seem to harm but many such servings over a long duration increase the odds of having a health problem manifold. One conversation that went wrong now doesn’t seem to have any direct impact on a relationship but with every such conversation, trust is eroded till it reaches a point where relationship ends.

In an organization, this becomes even more complex where larger system is a collection of many independent sub-systems. Decisions and conversations in each of these sub-system affects the whole. The impact of one strategic failure may not be visible in a short term but can prove fatal in a long run.

The good news is: the converse is also true. Any great success is, almost always, a result of many small things done right. Careers are built one opportunity at time. Trust is earned one deed at a time, lessons are learned one experience at a time and great teams are built one conversation at a time. It is gradual and very powerful.

Why do we fail to notice the gradual then? Because we are too obsessed in responding to the immediate. Because doing takes a precedence over thinking. Because we fail to see living systems as “systems”. We work on components without considering the impact on the system as a whole.

This reminds me of a metaphor of a boiling frog

A frog, when placed in boiling water will jump out immediately because of heat. However, if placed in cold water that is heated very slowly, the frog does not perceive the danger and enjoys the warmth. Incrementally, as warmth turns into heat, it becomes groggy unable to climb up. Eventually, it is boiled to death.

As leaders and professionals, our ability to notice the slow and subtle changes in the system is as important as our ability to respond to urgent and immediate changes. 

In the novel “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway, one of the lead characters Mike Campbell is asked, “How did you go bankrupt?”. Mike responded, “Gradually… and then suddenly.”

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Photograph Courtesy: Chaula Vora – Red Eyed Frog, Costa Rica

Great Quotes: Luc de Brabandere on Change, Innovation and Perceptions

When we encounter a change, we first perceive ourselves in a changed situation. So, our perception of the changed situation actually precedes the actual change and shapes our response.

In the same context, I read two quotes by Luc de Brabandere. The first quote comes from Forbes India article by NS Ramnath about N. R. Narayana Murthy being re-instated as Infosys Executive Chairman, where he quotes Luc:

“We believe that to really make change happen, changing the reality is of course necessary – this involves developing novel ideas for change, and the implementation of those ideas via project management and measurement, templates and the like. But changing reality is not sufficient – we must also change peoples’ perceptions .

This happens on much more of an individual basis; each stakeholder’s needs and biases must be taken into account. This can only be done through careful preparation and communication. So to really make change happen, we must change twice – reality and perception.”

Second quote comes from Luc’s 2011 interview with Boston Consulting Group, where he shares story of how Philips, a traditional electronics company,  executed “new box” thinking to realize a new world of possibilities. He concludes the interview with this thought:

That’s why I have completely changed my mind about brainstorming. I don’t think a successful brainstorm is a meeting at which a new concept suddenly arises. Rather, a successful brainstorm is a meeting at which an existing concept suddenly makes a lot of sense to a lot of people.

This really boils down to what Peter Senge defines as a mental model – our thought process about how something works in real world. When we change our perceptions, we may end up realizing that most of the constraints that we see may not be existent in the real world, except in our minds.

In 100 Words: Epitome of Change

Each time I pass through that huge building, I think of its past glory. It was one of the first multiplexes of the country, a trend setter of the sorts. Today, it stands empty with a warning on its walls, “Under Demolition”.

I see that building as an epitome of change. How can a pioneer go down in less than 10 years? How can they fail at responding to change when their aggressive competitors were innovating in delivering superior consumer experience?

Tom Peters says, “DISTINCT or EXTINCT.” What are you doing to distinguish yourself, raise the bar and relentlessly improve?

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Training: The Change Agent

Organizations that embark on process journey initiate rigorous training programs to ensure that everyone is trained to perform activities associated with specific roles. While these initiatives start with a lot of zest, somewhere, it loses steam. I have seen training programs becoming more of a “necessary evil” over a period of time. Trainers take these trainings for granted and completely lose the sight of their objectives. They conduct trainings simply because they have a budget/training process/calendar that they have to comply with.

Imparting training is a costly affair. So many people from your organization spend those precious hours either conducting or attending training. Trainings done as a “necessary evil” is one of the biggest wastes I have seen in organizations. Effective trainings have become absolutely critical in knowledge oriented world to maintain the competitiveness and innovation.

For training to really deliver value, we need a shift in mindset. Trainings are not a just one-way affair – they are the change agents. Trainings, if done with right intent and zeal can transform the organization. Trainings are a great forum to set the expectations on behaviors you value and build the culture.

In one of the consulting companies I know, the Managing Director/Founder attended the quality induction training in the very first batch. He gave a clear message across the organization that attending the training was crucial, and that if he can attend it, no one else should be too busy not to attend it. Top management championed the cause to set the right example at the onset.

Training a mass may be a good way to drive expectations, but for training to be a change agent, we need to influence one person at a time. I know a technical leader who is very conscious about on-the-job mode of training. He believes that doing things together is the best way to teach. He uses a combination of class room training and interactive/short one on one sessions to drive learning in his team.

Bottom line: Whether you are a business leader, training manager or a trainer, ask this question before planning any training, “What change do I wish to see as a result of this training?” and your perspective would change from “imparting knowledge” to “inducing change”. Treat training as a change agent.

Change: From Vision to Execution

Leaders establish a lofty vision for a large scale change initiative and then strategize to align the team. Sometimes, the team gets over-excited by this grand vision and get stuck. They cannot define a strategy or a plan of action that takes them closer to that grand vision.

Planning for a change is a tricky thing. Vision is broad,  actions have to be specific, team needs to remain motivated throughout and uncertainties have to be managed.

Based on personal experience, here are some of the broad strategies that helps when planning and executing a change:

  1. Shorter “plan-do” cycles: Linear planning with long list of activities is almost dead. Long linear plan can bog the team down and doesn’t help in keeping all aligned. Shorter plan-do-feedback cycles help in executing work in smaller chunks and collect data/feedback that can help in further planning.
  2. Keep the plan simple: Every change initiative will face a lot of uncertainties and will get messy at some point. When smallest of details are planned, these uncertainties will throw you out of track. Planning for change has to be simple, with key milestones and broad activities. It gives a lot of space to the team in managing uncertain situations.
  3. Involve team in planning: Simple yet very effective strategy, that ensures buy-in from team and gives them a broader roadmap to execute.
  4. Plan early and often: In long-term change initiatives, constantly planning/re-planning is important. Milestones have to be moved and activities have to be re-prioritized. Review the plan at the end of every sprint and realign team’s focus.
  5. Keep communication clear: When plans change, it is important to keep communication lines clear. Teams and stakeholders need to know the impacts and risks.

I have felt that implementing large scale/strategic changes is like walking through a forest. You know where you want to go, but the road/map to reach there is not clear. This is also true for significant personal change (like switching to a new career, starting a business etc).

The critical part: You need to be constantly on top of your plan, learn and re-align.

The fun part: The quest to find the best route and eventually, if done right, the joy of reaching there!

8 Pointers On Balancing Improvement and Efficiency

When leaders undertake process improvement/change initiative, they walk on a tight rope.

On one hand, they have to improve the processes to deliver positive business outcomes. On the other, they have to ensure that improvement/change initiative does not slow down the current work and bring the overall efficiencies down.

Both are crucial and striking the right balance between improvement and business efficiency, between standardization and evolution is a big leadership challenge. Based on my recent experiences in implementing large scale changes, here are a few lessons I would like to share:

  • Avoid Big Bang implementation of major changes. When it comes to processes and changing habits of people, there are no direct cut-overs. People (and culture) need time to change.
  • Improve Incrementally by implementing high priority (and high value) changes first. When people start seeing value in those changes, implement a few more.
  • Have a Strong Purpose behind each change being implemented. People will not subscribe to change unless the purpose of the improvement initiative is clear. People want to know how improvements will help them do a better job.
  • Keep Communication Tight during the change implementation. On going trainings, one to one facilitations, interactive audio/video based training go a long way in ensuring that people are aligned.
  • Focus on “Value Delivered” when looking at a change/improvement. There is a lot to improve, but focus on improvements that have direct impact in value delivered to the organization/customers.
  • Understand People because effective change implementation is not possible without understanding how people operate. With this understanding, managing resistance becomes a little easier.
  • Innovate In Process itself, without getting fixated on best practices. The “wow” customer experiences delivered are always a combination of remarkable people and innovative (yet simple) processes that makes customer’s life easier.
  • Look For “Exceptions” because they are the opportunities for improving and simplifying. When people don’t follow a process consistently, it may be a process problem.

Additionally, here are 5 things a leader should avoid when implementing any significant change. Read more about insights on managing process improvements and change.

Join in the conversation:

What have been your lessons in implementing change? What best practices would you like to share when it comes to balancing improvement and business efficiency?

Managing Process Changes and Disruption

Two things we know about change:

  • Resistance is our natural reaction to any change that disrupts our current way of working.
  • Things only change when the pain of change is less than the pain of remaining in current state.

Ability to foresee, plan and implement change for better alignment to the market and generate better outcomes is a huge competitive advantage.

Over at Harvard Business Review Blogs, I read the post (and the comments) “Overcoming The Disruption of Process Change” by Brad Power with great interest. Any one who is trying to improve the processes by implementing meaningful changes must read the post. Here’s what I learned.

Involving people in process innovation is critical to ensure that improvements are driven by practitioners and it generates better buy-in as well. However, leaders have to allow people to experiment, fail and learn. In his post, Brad says:

To overcome objections to the expense and riskiness of process innovation, it should be advanced through fast, inexpensive, and flexible experiments. The focus shouldn’t be on permission for resources but rather permission to behave differently. Failure and iterative learning should be built into the improvement process.

I wrote earlier about treating resistance and criticism as an opportunity to learn. Every change is an opportunity to learn as well. Consider the following:

Toyota selects its people for their openness to learning, and then develops their work habits through practice after they are hired. All managers are expected to be involved in process improvement and adaptation. Problems are welcomed as ways to help understand why things go wrong.

Finally, every change must have a significant positive impact on the organization – be it higher customer satisfaction or improved productivity. The post reinforces:

Leaders need to demonstrate that they value high customer satisfaction. The gap between current performance and what is needed to win must be always visible to everyone.

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Join in the conversation: What other ideas have worked for you when implementing significant changes?

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Related Posts at QAspire Blog:

Ambiguity: Embrace It, But Don’t Be a Source

When we run a business or execute a project, we set clear goals of what we want to achieve, create detailed plans, devise strategies and set up milestones. But leadership, just like life, is ambiguous and paradoxical.

People default, conflicts happen, clients change their requirements, demand/supply suddenly flips, things just don’t work as expected, delays happen, difficult questions arise and contrasting view points come up. Amidst all these uncertainties, do leaders give up? Certainly no. Leonardo da Vinci said,

“That painter who has no doubts will achieve little.”

The rate of change is so rapid these days, that ambiguity is ubiquitous, and certainty, an illusion. Hence, ability to thrive on uncertainty is crucial for our growth as leaders and professionals.

It is amidst uncertainty and ambiguity that we tend to be at our creative best, doing a lot of intuitive thinking and coming up with solutions as we go. Fresh perspectives emerge and new insights unfold as we work our way through the foggy road ahead.

When you reach the destination you set out for, working through all the ambiguities, the satisfaction level is also much higher. Not only because you achieved the goal, but in the process, you learned a great deal about people, situations, paradoxes and about managing uncertainty. Your work shines through.

Having said that, you should never be a source of ambiguity as a leader. Your job as a leader is to provide clarity to your team, while managing the external uncertainties.

So, a few questions for all of us as we start a new week:

  • Assess your inclination towards certainty. Do you get frustrated when faced with an uncertainty or paradox? Does a lot of certainty give you a sense of comfort?
  • If yes, what behaviors could you change to be more comfortable with external uncertainties, work through it and get more creative?

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15 Key Lessons On Managing Change

Change, they say, is the only constant. With rapid globalization and advent of technology, the rate of change in society and in organizations has just multiplied.

We may not be ‘change management experts’, but having a set of thumb rules always helps when dealing with change (because at some point, we have to face/manage/lead a change). Based on my experience in implementing organizational change through processes and people, here are a few key lessons I have derived:

  1. Change is difficult because it pulls us out of our comfort. Change challenges us to do things differently. Any meaningful change always comes with a set of associated pains. 
  2. Every change has its settling time and that depends on you/your organization/your context.
  3. Change eliminates (on a long run) those who don’t adapt. Remember what Charles Darwin said?
  4. Changes are driven by external factors (e.g. market forces) and internal ones (e.g. internal re-organizations, initiative to change etc.)
  5. We have to be conscious enough to identify, assess and trigger internally driven changes. (because a lot of progress depends on that)
  6. It is always more fun to change ourselves (internally driven) than to be forced to change by external triggers.
  7. That means, even when everything is seemingly going great, you need to watch out for signs of change.
  8. Change can be a great learning experience if we know when and how to align ourselves (and our mindsets).
  9. Ability to change, readiness to realignment and agility in mindset are the new competitive advantages.
  10. To implement change, you can either preach tactics to change, or you can drive change through a compelling purpose and value. (so that people ‘want’ to change)
  11. Because the fact is, people only change when "they want to change’.
  12. In organizational context, constant training and support on change is essential to remove barriers for people who are impacted by the change.
  13. Trying to change everything at once is a sure recipe for failure. Let change be gradual. Change a few most critical things. Changes need to be prioritized.
  14. You can be a ‘victim’ of change, ‘manage’ a change, or lead it through. You create maximum impact when you ‘lead’ the change. (Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”)

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Change Management Essentials – 5 Things To Avoid

Most organizational/team improvement initiatives we undertake involve change – from current state of affairs to desired state. Change is hard and painful and necessary for growth/survival. Process improvement is all about managing change – and in my view, change (and its respective benefits) does not happen when you:

  • Keep thinking big without starting small: It is easy to get overwhelmed by the large goals you have set for improvement. But remember – the best way to eat an elephant is one piece at a time. Focus on big, but start small. Think about a few key things you can do now, that will take you one step nearer to your goal. You don’t make things better by thinking about it, but by doing something about it.
  • You focus solely on “enforce” rather than “enable” and “educate”: Changing habits and hence culture is a long term thing. Unless there is enough buy-in for a change, it does not happen. Best way to implement change is to educate people, enable them and hence empower them. Enforcement only results in dispassionate compliance.
  • Think too much about things you cannot change: There are things you just can’t do anything about. Worrying too much about them means loosing focus on what is in your control. I remember a prayer which says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” Be wise!
  • You think change is all about processes: Its not. Change is all about people and their habits. Processes are merely tools that guides them through the change process. Process acts as a compass, but people follow it. Lot of process consultants overly focus on compliance, standards and processes. Focus on people instead, and processes will not only be adhered to, but also improved upon by the same set of people.
  • Are a “sole warrior” in improvement/change initiative: If you are the only one who wants change in an organization, it doesn’t happen. All improvement initiative needs sponsorship from the top. People observe people at the top and emulate behaviors. Setting right examples and taking improvement initiative seriously goes a long way in building a constantly improving culture.

But why do we change, you may ask! This quote (I read it somewhere on Twitter) answers your question: “We change when the pain to change is less than the pain to remain as we are.

Have a Wonderful Wednesday!

Great Quotes : Change

Economic turbulence brings about a change – and growth lies in our response to these changes. Organizations and individuals always have a choice in framing their response to these changes. Choices that influence our future.

Organizations can choose to crib about recession or align actions to consolidate the expertise, streamline operations and take meaningful decisions that have long lasting impact on future.

In this context, here is a great quote coming from “Leadership Turn” blog:

“When the wind of change blows, some build walls, others build windmills.” –Anonymous

I was recently talking to one of my seniors and he mentioned that recession is like a pit stop in car racing. Racing cars use pit stop opportunity (or a yellow caution flag) to change tyres, fasten bolts and get refuelled. This “pit-stop strategy” is very important for organizations and individuals when they racing towards growth and development. On the same lines, I read an interesting article over at BNET titled “Think of the economic turndown as a pit stop; The race will still run “.

When faced with change, what do you prefer to build? Wall or Windmill?

P.S. – I have written three posts earlier that touch upon this all important topic of change management. 1) Thoughts on Change Management 2) Why Change? 3) Leadership and Adaptability. Your comments are priceless.

Thoughts on Change Management

Being into process management, and often responsible for implementing change, I can vouch for the fact that implementing change is difficult. While some change management initiatives succeed, most of them fail – because people often see change as a threat which will pull them out of their comfort zone and make them vulnerable. Yet, change is inevitable.

Some ideas on change management, via Harvard Business Review’s brief on “Change through Persuasion”

“Conduct a four-stage persuasion campaign:

1) Prepare your organization’s cultural “soil” months before setting your turnaround plan in concrete—by convincing employees that your company can survive only through radical change.

 2) Present your plan—explaining in detail its purpose and expected impact.

3) After executing the plan, manage employees’ emotions by acknowledging the pain of change—while keeping people focused on the hard work ahead.

4) As the turnaround starts generating results, reinforce desired behavioral changes to prevent backsliding.”

Change management has to be done painstakingly – and with a little more care and persuasion, the resistance to change can be controlled.

As Mike Kanazawa says “People Don’t Hate Change, They Hate How You’re Trying to Change Them.”

(Thanks to Rajesh Shetty for pointing to Mike’s ChangeThis Manifesto).