Friday, July 27, 2012

Principles for Change Agents - Part 2

As I said in Part 1, I have been a gatherer of good principles for managing change. Some of the maxims are common wisdom, others I can attribute to individuals whose work has had a direct influence on me. Here are a few more that have helped me to think differently about my work.

Get the whole system in the room - The credit for this one goes to Marv Weisbord, the author of the classic book Productive Workplaces. In his journey from business owner to OD Guru, Marv learned a lot about human systems and how to change them. One of Marv's insights was that change in an organization is possible if you get the right people into the room. Who are the right people? Anyone who is part of the process you want to change. If any key party is forgotten or missing, the entire effort will suffer.

People support what they help to create - This one comes from Meg Wheatley who has taught us that change is made possible when the people who will be most impacted by it are invited into the process of making the change. Invite and involve. Foster and facilitate participation.

The wisdom is in the people - In her book Sharing Wisdom, Sr. Mary Benet McKinney teaches that change is possible if you listen to the wisdom of the people who make up the group or organization. Sr. Mary says that whenever an organization is endeavoring to discern the "right" path or course of action to take, share wisdom.

It's a discernment process, of getting to the "right" path. Sharing wisdom is based upon several underlying beliefs including one that says that the people in the organization already possess the wisdom to discern the "right" path. Trouble is, no one individual has all the wisdom (though some may think that they do).

What is needed is respectful facilitation that seeks out everyone's "piece of the wisdom" and puts all the pieces on the table, even if there is conflict and disagreement.

Whenever there is a need for change, share wisdom with one another. The answers they seek are already there. The wisdom is in them. You need to patiently facilitate the sharing of the group's wisdom, hearing from each person.

All the wisdom is needed, all the wisdom is honored.

So, how about you? What principles have guided you as a change agent?

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Friday July 27, 2012

Monday, July 16, 2012

Principles for Change Agents - Part 1

Recently, a colleague asked, Who or what has most influenced your thinking and practice as an Organization Development consultant?

In my travels, I have been a gatherer of good principles. Some are common wisdom, others I can attribute to individuals whose work has had a direct influence on me. Here is a sampler:

Seek first to understand - This one simply says, Before anything else, be sure to listen. In Zen Buddhism, one is taught the idea of the Beginner’s Mind. S. Suzuki once said "In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind, only a few." Having an attitude of openness, being eager to learn, and walking in with a lack of preconceived notions when approaching a new client or problem, is the essence. Be receptive. Listen to your client, your team, your customer. Listen and you will learn. Listen well and you will be in a better position to help. This principle comes from the late Stephen Covey (who died today at age 79) in his now-classic book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, itself a testament to the enduring value of having a good set of hardy principles to live by.

Start small, think big - There's a great little adage about organizational change that starts with a question: How do you eat an elephant? The answer: One little bite at a time. Sometimes, as we face a big challenge, we know we are going to have to "eat" the whole thing, but no way do we have the capacity to do so. So we "think big" and set our goal for the entire elephant. But then our tactical plan focuses on the many "bites" or small steps that we will take to get there.

Think global, act local - Systems theory has taught us the so-called "Butterfly Effect" which says that changes, even small ones, in one part of a system can have large impacts elsewhere, even at a distance. So we must "think globally" about the entire system we are working on whenever we "act locally" on it. Do both at the same time, whenever you are engaged in organizational change, to be more aware of the outcomes, intended and unintended.

When planning to change things, find out what is working well already - Change consultants Jerry and Monique Sternin, in their work with intractable social challenges like hunger and malnutrition in poor countries, coined the concept called Positive Deviance which says, Look for the positive deviant, the person or group that has already found the better way. Someone somewhere in the system is doing something "right." You should look for him or her, study what they are doing, and plan how to spread their practices to other parts of the system.

Remember that all solutions generate new problems – The Quality engineers, like W. Edwards Deming, who first formulated TQM (Total Quality Management), understood the fact that no solution is ever once and for all. Rather, the truth is, that any solution, no matter how elegant or how clever, will itself trigger a cascade of new problems. This wisdom is built into the roadmap to problem solving I first learned years ago as a TQM facilitator. The roadmap always ended with the step called Start Again which implied that there is always a new set of problems to be solved.

Another of my chief influences was my mom.

She had a lot of sayings. "No good comes from fooling" she would say, admonishing us unruly children to behave, lest our ruckus cause some household mishaps. She had many other maxims that, as I think back, formed her view of life. These sayings, many of which I am sure she learned from her parents and grandparents, represented her "working wisdom," a set of principles for navigating the currents of life.

She was a simple farm girl, the child of immigrants who had made the momentous decision to come to America. Fleeing oppression in Russia, they left their old lives behind, and set out to seek a better life in the New World. So my mother knew something, deep in her bones, about the nature of choice and of change.

She would say "You make your bed, you lie in it" to make sure we understood that our conduct had consequences. So we had better think before choosing a course of action.

Perhaps the one saying of my mother's that impacted me the most was "Life is what you make it," a principle that I have carried within me to this very day. In a nutshell, with this principle, my mother taught me that "If it is to be, it is up to me." That I am the agent of change in my own life. That I cannot sit around waiting for things to happen. That I must make it happen.

So, how about you? What principles have guided you as a change agent?

**** This blog post is dedicated to Stephen Covey, author and consultant, who's principle-centered approach to leadership was a real influence on me ****

Posted by Terrence Seamon on July 16, 2012