Saturday, February 19, 2005

Getting Stuff Done

A ground-level challenge in mergers & acquisitions, that may escape the eyes of higher-level executives who are watching the stock price, the P&L and other metrics of organizational performance, is something I call getting stuff done.

Ground-level workers in staff and line jobs are good at getting stuff done every day, from answering customer calls to solving operational problems to delivering service. They know their jobs and they have the organizational know-how that their positions require to be able to get what they need so that they can get stuff done.

A big organizational upheaval, like a merger or an acquisition, kicks the stuffing out of people in an organization and imperils their ability to get stuff done. I am going through one of these periods now where I work. My company was sold to another company back late last year.

Here are some of the dimensions of this challenge.

What is my role? Part of getting stuff done is knowing what your job is. When big change happens, roles get fuzzy, or change altogether.

Who do I work for? Before the sale, workers knew who their bosses were, where the direction came from, and where to go to get answers from management.

How do I get what I need? It's not uncommon for the buyer to take immediate steps to terminate employees in the acquired company. In the interest of speed and synergy, key people are ushered out the door without an understanding of the domino effect it sets off. Now workers who remain are unsure how to get stuff done because so-and-so, who used to be in charge of building services, was fired.

One of the lessons for managing large-scale organizational change, that we are learning at my company, is that the ability of workers to get stuff done is directly tied to the success (or failure) of the acquisition.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Gifted and Broken

When people are born, they are born whole; they are who they are. Yet what makes up the totality of that whole being? I believe that we are all broken. Brokenness is part of our human condition.

Being human is, as the song tells us, "laden with happiness and tears." We are broken from the moment of birth until the day we die. Yes, a birth is a wondrous and joyous thing! Yet at birth, both mother and child are broken in the act. The baby breaks out of the womb. The mother expels the secret life it held for nine

Throughout our lives, we suffer many trials and experience our share of adversity. These trials strip us, shape us, and strengthen us.

Sometimes the breaks are physical such as a broken arm or rib. More often, however, the breaks are social, occupational, or political:
-- losing a friend
-- losing a parent
-- losing a job
-- losing a game
-- losing a race

The world is full of broken promises, broken homes and broken hearts.

We struggle with the "tough breaks" in life. How do we find joy? How do we find peace? How do we find wholeness?

Brokenness is integral to change. Change, by definition, entails breaking. Some wise sage once said, "If you want to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs." This is why change is so hard to do, in particular organizational change. No one likes it. No one wants to be changed. Yet, in order to move on and grow and improve, we must change.

When we change, we have to break with the past, with the old familiar. We have to shed our skins. We have to disturb things. We have to upset the status quo and shake people up.

Brokenness is a strategy. As change agents, we are not exempt from the breakage. By virtue of being human, we ourselves are broken. And by virtue of the work we do, we break others.

In our "use of self," do we use our brokenness? Do we OD (organization development) practitioners bring our brokenness to the table?

A few years ago there was a little book about innovation called "If It Aint Broke...Break It." For me, there was an exciting truth contained in this book: that breaking something doesn't kill it ("What does not kill me, makes me stronger.").

Rather, when we break something, it opens it up the possibility of transformation, as a butterfly must break out of the cocoon in order to fly.

But this is just half of the story. People are not only broken. They are gifted as well.

Taken together, like the yin and the yang, we have the whole of each person: their brokenness and their giftedness.

~~In our brokenness, we have wounds and weaknesses.

~~In our giftedness, we have talents and strengths.

Each person's life is the story of being both broken and gifted. How do I discover my gifts? How do I use them to reach my goals? How do I use them to better the lives of others?

What is the gift that comes hidden in the wounds that life inflicts on me?

What is the gift within the weakness that I carry?

How do I discover the gifts of others? How do I help them to discover their own gifts? To develop their gifts? To utilize their gifts?

As an OD practitioner, I often am in awe of the person sitting across from me. Whether a client, a customer, a boss, a subordinate or a colleague, I try to remind myself that they are special, both broken and gifted like me.

My approach is . . .
- to be welcoming
- to be receptive
- to empty myself
- to listen
- to be patient
- to appreciate their perspective
- to be thankful

To look for both the brokenness and the giftedness. And to value both.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Batting Coach

As a Little Leaguer, I was not much of a ball-player. A fact that bothered me, but also bothered my dad. My father was an uber-athlete, a champion in his youth, and a coach, referee and umpire in his middle-age. Sport was everything to him. And four out of his five sons followed suit.

The fifth son, yours truly, was the exception. More of an egghead than the others, I was best at academic performance, and a shambles on the ball field. I had no skills and little discernible aptitude.

My dad was encouraging but he tended to invest his energies in the other better players. One evening at baseball practice, an assistant coach named Ed approached me. I was pretty amazed that he was even speaking to me since I was a third-string splinter-collector.

Ed said, "Let's see your swing, Terry."

I got up, grabbed a bat, and showed him my style. Appraising me carefully, Ed began to coach me, saying "Hmmm. Let's try this. I want to change a few things, OK? First, I'd like you to get the bat off your shoulder. Yeah that's it. Raise it up. Now spread your feet further apart. More. OK good. Bend your knees more. Yeah good."

I went along with his specific suggestions, modifying my batting stance and swing. Why not, I said to myself. It couldn't hurt.

After a few minutes of pantomime practice, Ed said, "OK. Let's hit." He indicated that I should step up to the plate.

At this point, I felt a mix of feelings. I was not much a hitter, but I wondered if Ed's approach would work.

He said, "OK Terry, try what we just practiced." Then he gestured to the pitcher to throw.

I reshaped myself into the stance Ed had suggested: bat in the air, legs apart, knees bent.

Ed called to me: "Terry, get closer to the plate." I did as he said.

The pitcher wound up and threw the ball. I put my eye on the ball and swung the bat.

To my utter surprise, I connected, solidly, and heard the thwock that I always wanted to hear, and saw the ball floating in the air over the shortstop.

"Way to go, Terry!" Ed cried from the sideline.

I was euphoric. I was a changed person. I can hit! I know how to hit!

In the next game, the coaches took a chance on me and put me in to hit. I did not disappoint. I whacked the ball, got all the way to third base, and drove in two runners.

As the years have rolled by, I have often reflected upon this incident. I marvel at the effect this coaching has had on my life. I became a teacher; then an industrial trainer; and now a coach myself, working with supervisors and managers on ways that they can be more effective.

A good coach can have a direct and meaningful impact on performance, output, morale, and engagement.

For more ideas on coaching and unleashing the potential of others, contact Terry and invite him to speak to your managers.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

A Weick on the Side of the Head

Karl Weick wrote some very cool stuff about human behavior and organization. In one piece, he wrote about a team of smokejumpers that became disorganized and, as a result, many of them died.

An important concept that Weick coined is "sensemaking." In a nutshell, sensemaking is the mental process of interpreting and constructing the reality around us. So defined, we are sensemaking pretty much all the time as we go about our daily lives. Most of the time, stuff makes sense to us. Sometimes, we find ourselves in challenging circumstances where we have to actively make sense of what is going on.

In my field of organization development, this is a frequent challenge. For example, right now the company I work for is in the throes of post-acquisition integration. The larger company that bought my employer is taking hold of everything and changing a great deal of how we do business.

My co-workers (and I) are faced with a constant stream of new faces, new demands, questions, and uncertainty. All the while, we are still trying to do our jobs.

Sensemaking comes into it at every juncture as we attempt to adjust our mental models from the old to the new. The old sensemaking model worked reliably. Hopefully the new model will jell. It will take time.

The smokejumpers got disorganized, at least in part, due to a failure in sensemaking. Some things happened in the incident that did not make sense to the highly trained fire fighters. Because of this, panic and distrust mounted. Their structure and judgement collapsed. And doom fell.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Crap Detectors

You know you are dealing with an expert if he (or she) has a well-functioning crap detector that enables them to sniff out the BS in someone else's position. This cuts across all occupations, places, and levels. My wife Joan is one of those experts. In her case, the field is church music and not much gets by her. When some pretender is blowing smoke about music in church liturgy, she will spot it, cut them off at the knees (with out batting an eye), and bring them down to size.

The concept of a "crap detector" is nothing new. I think it was first coined by the writer Ernest Hemingway many years ago. Ever since, the phrase has had widespread exposure and use.

What's not so widely known is its companion, the "gem detector," a concept first discussed (I believe) by several organizational learning & development practitioners, including Winfried Dressler, At de Lange, Leo D. Minnigh and John Gunkler back in 1999.

Gem detectors are filters we use to spot good ideas and suggestions, possible solutions, and overlooked answers to intractable problems. Gem detectors may not be as fully developed in experts as crap detectors, particularly in cultures that emphasize problem finding.

In postings to the Learning-Org listserv, there were some interesting thoughts expressed about detectors, learning and innovation. For example:

When you speak about learning in organizations, the tough problem these days is, how can we build processes that get vital knowledge (or even information) to the right places in a timely fashion. There is too much information. We need both filters and communications links -- links so we don't miss what's important, and filters (or "detectors") so we don't get overwhelmed by the unimportant. That strikes me as possibly the number one "systems" priority for people trying to help organizations learn.

All I would add to that is that we also need to help people strengthen their gem detectors.