Leading Organizational Change through large group interventions

I like to watch people dancing. In some cities during the summer there are some places where you can find a DJ or people drumming while everyone manages to integrate in the larger group. People may be dancing with different steps, but everyone is contributing to the sense of harmony with their own movements.  I see strength, coordination, passion.  However, in more structured environments, like in a wedding, when you see couples dancing at the same time every couple or person is following their own direction. Everyone is achieving their personal goal, but they don’t feel like a group with a bigger goal.

Something similar happens during meetings. If the meeting doesn’t call for everyone’s collaboration, the more people you have in the meeting, the less gets done. There is no sense of harmony and everyone is trying to achieve their own goals. Unless of course you organize a large group meeting with the large group in mind. The way of organizing and facilitating critical mass meetings is radically different than a regular business meeting, as it needs to allow people’s creativity and energy be explored and used effectively.

If you haven’t been into a Search Conference, a Participative Work Redesign,  a World Cafe, an Open Space or similar interventions, it’s time for you to check it out. Large group interventions, also called  Critical mass events, are the kind of events that can really generate Change with a capital C in an organization. They’re based on the Socio-Technical Systems Theory, that approaches OD analyzing the organization in three levels, allowing people to have a whole systems view:

  • Outside forces – customers, market forces, community, competitors, and change
  • Technical systems – the processes used to create and deliver products and services
  • Human side of the organization – rewards, motivation, talent development  and the relationship among people

This has created a “new” (although it has been around for several years) way of leading change in organizations. Instead of having a committee that would collect data about the organization, which is a slower and biased way of promoting change, that requires the committee being able to sell the change initiatives to the organization, now we can bring the entire system in a room and work intensively in designing initiatives that consider everyone’s point of view. In this way, the changes will be sustained as people that participate (and whose voices are heard) will be already committed to new ways of working. Everyone who can make a decision is in the room, so there is no need to wait weeks for an answer.

Working this way also has the benefit of improving teamwork, increasing employee engagement and working more efficiently, because the system can re-design the way it works and get rid of the processes that no longer support the organization’s goals.

If your organization needs a real change, perhaps it’s time to start thinking about a large group intervention.

Why is difficult to sustain Change?

Several companies fail in their attempts to achieve excellence. A common reason is that the so much needed change wasn’t planned or implemented properly, and it will be rejected by the organization, as the organizations are auto-regulated (autopoiesis, Maturana dixit). Often, companies (or consultants) use a packaged change program: “Whatever worked for X company is good enough for company Y.”  Additionally, everyone wants a quick fix that makes them look better in no time, and more often than not, structural changes are messy.

We often forget that things that developed or deteriorated for years, cannot change in a couple of weeks, with just a few meetings. We need to change people behavior and often, beliefs.  As this is frequently a very important and not always  evident obstacle for change: organizational defenses.

To achieve organizational excellence, organizations should focus on learning, competence and justice, instead of morale, satisfaction and loyalty which are the frequent concerns of HR, as Chris Argyris says. Learning will allow us to detect errors and correct them; competence will help us to solve problems definitely and justice will improve the organizational health. Regardless of the change agents’ efforts, if the organization doesn’t really focus on these three issues, change won’t be sustainable.

overcome-obstacles

SEVEN ERRORS THAT PREVENT REAL CHANGE

Argyris mentions seven worldwide errors that top management considers crucial, and that have been proved through research:

1. Actions intended to increase understanding and trust often produce misunderstanding and mistrust.  Think of all these meetings that large companies have between the head office and a local office.  Head office executives think that everything has been cleared out and local office executives wonder what is the head office really planning to do.

2. Blaming others or the system for poor decisions. No one likes to take the blame, and no one wants to admit they made a mistake.

3. Organizational inertia: the tried and proven ways of doing things dominate organizational life. We have all heard the typical comment: “it has always been done this way”, or “I don’t have the authority to change it”. People tend to stick with what they did yesterday, often forgetting that if there is a new competitor, new technology or new need, what worked yesterday won’t necessarily work today.

4. Upward communications for difficult issues are often lacking. No one wants to bring the bad news,  Upward communication from employees often disappears at management level.

5. Budget games are necessary evils. Everyone in a medium or large company knows the different applications of this defense.  People tend to undersell to make sure that they can deliver, conceal unattractive programs in a more attractive one, require authority from different parties to make difficult to come to an agreement, promise future results instead of being clear on what the program does, etc.

6. People don’t behave reasonably, even when it’s in their best interest. A lot of irrational responses can be found here: rejection, indecision, procrastination, sabotage, lack of follow-up, etc.  People think that just by being (or appearing busy) things will change or fade away.

7. The management team is often a myth.  

 

WHAT DO WE DO, THEN?

There is no magic pill to change our behavior in organizations, but we can start by understanding these errors and finding which ones apply to our organization. We need to process our fears and work as individuals and in groups, to understand what is happening to our organization and what do we need to do to change it. We need to get rid of the “fancy footwork” that protects this defensive routines.  We need to understand and challenge the assumption that is behind each defensive behavior.

When we talk about changes that impact the entire organization, there is never too much communication or training.  But both process should be a two way path. We need to listen and learn what is really happening in the organization.  Our Change  Management efforts cannot be superficial, otherwise we risk the trust the organization may have on it.

We need to unlearn and re-learn a new model of thinking. Analysis, reflection and humble inquiry are needed if we are to get to the bottom of these defenses.

Do you have any example of question? Please, share it in the comments section.

Managing Change vs. Leading Change

Some days ago, I attended a conference and realized Lewin’s change model is still in use. The simplicity of the model is useful to illustrate the process, but in my perspective, it could be misleading.  If we haven’t experienced a deep transformation process, we can think the change process is linear and looks like this:

Lewin change model

It consists in providing the conditions for people to see what needs to be changed and why, what resources do they have and which ones they need.  Then, during the change process it refers to planning and adopting new practices, and modifying behavior to adapt to change. Finally, coming back to the normal conditions, using and incorporating change.

In a strict sense and in retrospective, an organizational change may look like that. However, transforming human behavior is not so easy and for sure it’s not linear.

The ADKAR model developed by Prosci, is one of the most comprehensive models businesses use nowadays.

graph_adkar1

Regardless of the type of change your organization is going through, understanding the stages of change will reduce confusion, but having more clarity on what are the pitfalls and what is needed to move from one stage to another is relevant.  However, as John Kotter says,  it is important to remember that managing change is not the same as leading change. “Management” implies a system or process that can and should be constantly monitored, whereas “Leadership” suggests assembling and inspiring a group of people who will design and own a self sustaining program.

A lot of companies talk about Change managers (or even champions), when what they actually need are Change leaders that can instill the urgency to change and motivate the entire organization to go through an unpredictable, difficult and long process, that will end up changing the culture of the company. We need to remember that although the goal may be the same, the process is quite different and therefore, requires a different set of skills.

Change Management competencies

“The Opposite of Resistance is Assistance”. Steven Fieldman

The first time I heard about Change Management at work, it was from one  of my colleagues saying that organizational change processes are similar to upgrading a plane while it’s still flying. Unfortunately, we cannot stop all that we’re doing, change and then resume our activities.

Frequently, organizations engage in a change process without any help or only with the support of a Project Manager, forgetting that when there are people involved, additional support needs to be provided. Although Project Managers could be aware of the resistance from the people involved, their skills are not necessarily the right ones to create the engagement needed to facilitate and sustain the change.

Change Management specialists have a different skill set than PMs, as CMs will evaluate organization readiness and work through the resistance to change, while PMs are more concerned about resources and following the plan, in order to deliver on time and budget.

From my experience,  these are the most important competencies that are needed:

Behavioral Competencies

  • Analysis, decision making, strategically savvy
  • Persuasion and influencing
  • Emotional intelligence to deal with pressure, setbacks, etc, (including self-awareness and and a genuine interest for understanding other people’s behavior)
  • Systems Thinking
  • Negotiation/persuasion
  • Communication
  • Patience and Optimism
  • Flexibility

Functional Competencies

  • Keen business sense
  • Project Management
  • Organizational change
  • Process facilitation
  • Group Dynamics

 

What do you think? Please, share it in the comments section.

How to cultivate a Learning Network

After you finish school your learning opportunities come from three sources: events, reading material, and people. The events that happen to you are pretty much related to the kind of job you have and activities you do. If you work in a company and follow the same routine, it will take a lot of luck to move out of your “comfort zone”, which incidentally is your “learning zone”. If you go out, your learning will follow a pattern that will limit you, as you won’t be exposed to radically new ideas.

Let me explain: if you work, as I did, as a manager of a team, your reading material and experiences will be related to your field and the few topics that interest you. But also, if you are the “expert” in a topic, you might disregard information that you don’t agree with, as we tend to consider ourselves too good to learn from them.   If you still read the newspaper, it will bring you perhaps a little bit more of information, although probably outdated (as we know that with social media we have access to more and more information every second).

I’ll give you an example: ten years ago most of my reading material was on Organizational development, personal development and literature. The chances of reading a good book on, let’s say medicine, were really slim. However, one day I went to a conference where the speaker was Juan Enriquez, and this event opened the door to a whole new world: genomics, technology, science, innovation, etc. During this conference, Enriquez talked about the BRCA test and how this small piece of information should be more important for women than any other thing related to her breasts. Angelina Jolie just brought it to the attention of the general public 10 years later.

The type of books/articles you read, will likely come from the people that you talk to or the events that influence you. So, when we hear Humberto Maturana saying that “the quality of our conversations  determines the quality of our relationships, and the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our work”  all this makes sense. Your learning and your work depends on the reflections you have on the events and conversations that you have.

In 2008 I read that my colleague Abiel Guerra had attended a seminar in Cape Cod with Edgar Schein.  Although I was closer to Cape Cod than him (he’s in Mexico), I hadn’t heard of this institute before.  Attending Schein’s seminar next year changed the way I perceived several things and introduced me to more awesome people, such as my friend Ralf Lippold in Germany. This event had a strong influence too, in the type of projects I designed during my master’s degree, such as a virtual stammtisch on Change, with people from all over the world, as Ralf introduced me to an Austrian guy who is in Brazil, and I invited a couple of friends from Colombia, Chile and Mexico that I met through a World Cafe workshop in Brazil. That broadened my network and their networks, too. changing conversations logo

So, if you want to increase the quality of the conversations you have, you need to be exposed to different experiences, different people, different ways of thinking. The best way to do it is to have a diverse network.  To increase the diversity of your network you can start changing your patterns in the following ways:

-Meet new people: don’t be shy, talk to people, ask questions. You have to show up, engage in situations where you can meet new people who can introduce you to different ways of thinking. Be open to discuss and learn about other people too, and to answer questions about your own ideas.

-Attend professional gatherings from industries that are not related to your field: this will give you the great opportunity of meeting new amazing people, and listen to great ideas.  Also, people love to talk to someone who is genuinely interested.

-Get out of your comfort zone: that’s a given. If you don’t speak the same industry language, you’ll likely ask more questions, be more interested and learn more (as you won’t judge and discard easily a topic).

-Follow people on Twitter: search for keywords that are interesting, check users’ bios and followers. Then, follow more people!

-Suscribe to TED: a lot of my inspiration for my work I got it from a TED talk, if you find other similar resources, let me know. I’ll be happy to share more information.

-Join Goodreads and search for trending books: check out what are your friends and some other people reading, you may find interesting stuff.

-Connect the dots between fields or topics: my friend Ralf is passionate about opera and ballet and loves to see how arts connect with management and productivity, for example. Find the common elements, the things that work in a field and how they can be applied into another field.  There is no limit!

So, in a nutshell, opening up to new opportunities and new people will help you generate new ideas. Some days ago, for example, I went to an HR breakfast, a Sustainability 5@7 and a Growing Community event at the Planetarium, all these events in less than 48 hours.  I cannot begin to say how I feel now, excited and recharged, and now my mind is exploding with new ideas, leads and articles to follow up with, and the best, all of this for free!

Please, share your ideas and let’s see what we can build together.

Becoming a Sustainable company

I’ve recently attended different events regarding sustainability. It seems to be gaining relevance in these days, when we see more environmental challenges. There are terrible tragedies that make us wonder what will happen with the earth if we continue in this path. But as George Carlin said the Earth is fine, is the people that are f#cked. Every day we see in the news companies that are actively working to improve the situation: we see great advances in science that show a light at the end of the tunnel, but of course, we see that the usual suspects don’t seem to be doing anything relevant. We know that some companies are doing really good efforts and other are just pretending. Becoming sustainable requires operating in a way that helps the environment, which requires not only occasional actions but an entire strategy to drastically change the way we’re  interacting with the environment.

According to an MIT Sloan research on Sustainability, this is a two stage process. The first stage  involves re-framing the company’s identity through leadership commitment and external engagement with organizations that share this concern. The second stage involves codifying the new identity through employee engagement and mechanism of execution.

Of course, the CEO commitment is key, but it has to influence the behavior of employees. It’s not only a good intention that is needed, the culture of the company has to change to allow and promote sustainability in each one of the tasks employees perform. The study says that “engaged employees are emotionally connected to their work and to their workplace. As a result, they tend to be more productive and more willing to engage in discretionary efforts to achieve company goals”.

The corporate culture will have an impact in people’s behavior, but given the fact that Sustainability is an incipient concept (at least in our economical model) MIT recommends to head in a direction, tolerate risk and make adjustments en route, which is very likely against any manager’s expectations.

This is the reason why consultants that are familiar with this kind of transformation are needed, to help the company trust the process and create room for small changes, that will increase the capacity of the organization for transformational change.

sustainability

So, the first question is: who is involved in this change? Shareholders, CEO, employees?  It’s not the responsibility of the OD department, the Engineering team or a committee that wants to see some changes. It has to come from the top (or get to the point where there is real buy-in from the CEO, otherwise, is only a nice-to-have attribute.  It has to permeate the entire company, through conversation, training, generation of ideas and re-definition of the processes, or it will never work.  As any other change process, is everyone’s responsibility.

Human being or human having?

We all know what Maslow says about our needs but I certainly don’t recall any note on the accumulation of things. Yes, we do need certain things to satisfy our need for safety, but the truth is that money, and the things we can buy with it, are a very thin layer that protects us from the perceived adversity of life.  When life gets really, really though, there won’t be enough things to spare our suffering. However, if we continue creating “needs”, our suffering and the suffering we cause to others will definitely increase.

When I read that there is enough in this world to satisfy everybody’s need but not everybody’s greed, I felt really sad. It’s absolutely true,  not only we’ve been greedy but really irresponsible. Our consumption has terrible consequences for our planet and on the top of that, it’s pointless, it doesn’t really serve us.

We’ve failed to see that we’re a large living system, that fortunately has the ability to regain balance by itself (I hear my HSI family yelling: autopoiesis!! sorry, internal joke), but one of these days, the way to regain balance will be to kick us out of here.

funny-doctor-earth-sick-humans

If we are to leave a planet to our children, we need to embrace a “new” trend: thrivability, that help us to create successful and sustainable companies, that deeply fulfill the stakeholders, enrich the community and live in harmony with nature, as our friends from Thrivability Montreal explain. There are movements all across the world inviting us to put common sense before business sense. We, as HR/OD professionals, need to help the companies realize how damaging certain activities can be and how to transition to an ecologically responsible and respectful way of working.  We need to create the conditions that allow this level of consciousness in our organizations. Different conversations need to happen inside the companies, and also outside. Both, company and clients need to be more responsible in respect to our world.