Book Review-Rebels at Work: A Handbook for Leading Change from Within

Someone must be there to initiate a change. They’re the ones who first see that the ship is sinking or realize there is land across the sea. The folks who go first are rebels. They buck the status quo in the attempt to make things better. Rebels often get a bad rap at work, because they fight against everything the organization is organized for: consistency. However, Rebels at Work: A Handbook for Leading Change from Within can help both the rebel and those who work with rebels harness the power of the rebel without being frustrated.

Good and Bad

When Dorthey landed in Oz, Glinda the Good Witch asked her what kind of witch she was, and her answer was, “Who me? I’m not a witch at all.” Rebels must be conscious of whether their rebellion is being used well or whether it’s alienating them – and their cause. While there are positive, productive ways to be a rebel, there are also negative and potentially career-ending ways to be a rebel. Rebels at Work starts with a table of behaviors and attitudes that characterize good and bad rebels – with the obvious recommendation to be a good rebel.

The rest of the book sets out to explain how those behaviors and attitudes work for the good rebel and seeks to provide a toolkit that rebels can use to become more effective.

Much of the difference between good and bad rebels comes with how they deal with conflict. Effective conflict strategies serve the good rebel, and ineffective conflict strategies are the hallmark of a bad rebel. (If you want to better understand conflict, you can get an email-video series of conflict tips for free.)

Working Ahead

One of the rebel’s gifts is the ability to see the future. In some ways, rebels live with one foot in the future. They’re the people who were admonished by teachers for working ahead. Good rebels are constantly seeing what could be rather than just the broken.

In my junior high school career, I once found my way out of the classroom through working ahead. It was a science class, and the textbook wasn’t that great. The replacement teacher was reading just one chapter ahead of us and apparently not paying that great of attention. He introduced heat as an invisible fluid that flowed through things. Having read the next chapter (and a few more), I corrected him and told him that heat wasn’t an invisible fluid at all but was instead molecular kinetic energy. He wasn’t impressed. However, he was smart. He offered me the chance to play in the science lab area with some mildly radioactive materials that the school had for demonstrating Geiger counters. I loved it, and he loved not having me in the class to disrupt his teaching. It was an uneasy time and just one of many where my rebellious tendencies made my life uncomfortable.

The view of time in Rebels at Work is different than mine. I view differences in the way people see time from the point of view of The Time Paradox while they have a different source. However, that being said, the point is the same. Some people are past-focused, some are present-focused, and some are future-focused. Good rebels, it turns out, are largely future-focused.

Characteristics of a Successful Rebel

How can you spot a rebel when you see them? It turns out that they look very much like everyone else. What’s different is that rebels are curious, easily bored, creative, open-minded, skeptical, and flexible. However, the characteristics of a successful rebel include the perseverance and tenacity to see a change through. Rebels tend to be less disciplined, and since they’re easily bored, they’ll be ready to move on before the change in the organization is done. (See Grit for about the role of perseverance and tenacity more.)

Rebel Reliance on Trust

A rebel’s effectiveness at accomplishing change in the organization is built on a foundation of trust. That trust is found both in the rebel themselves and in the idea the rebel has for making things better. Rebels at Work builds on the work of Trust Rules for the perspective on trust. I have a more nuanced view that is more accurately explained in Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy and Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy, Revisited.

Organizational Natives

Where Kotter in Buy-In focused on the kinds of objections that might occur from people who are in an organization (though the example is a public issue, not a corporate one), Rebels at Work focuses on four kinds of people you’ll run into in an organization who may be helpful – or harmful – in your attempt to accomplish change:

  • Bureaucratic Black Belt (BBB) – These folks want to follow the rules, and if you’re willing to work with them to push your change through the existing rules, they may be helpful – or they may find rules that block your proposed change.
  • Tugboat Pilots – They’re used to navigating difficult waters and are willing to do that with you if your change promises results.
  • Benevolent Bureaucrat – They’re focused on the process, and as a result, they may block your proposed change since it may change the process.
  • Wind Surfer – These self-interested parties will be interested in your idea in so much as it helps them. When it stops helping them, they’ll change their tune and move on to the next thing.

You’ll need to work with the organizational natives to get your change made, whether they’re actively resisting or they just seem like they’re in your way. The more you can focus your efforts on helping them meet their goals, the more likely they are to help you meet yours.

Taking the Heat

Rebels, for all their good will, need to accept their fate. In most cases, rebels won’t be marked fairly on performance reviews or considered impartially for promotions. Even when the rebel is right, they’ve made people uncomfortable, and that discomfort will linger in the air around a rebel. Rebels may be the ones drawing attention to the elephant in the room, but at some point, once people see the elephants, they’re going to see the piles that the elephant left behind.

Ultimately, rebels need the fortitude to stand up and lead people in the right direction even when that is difficult. That takes an unusual degree of integrity and fortitude, but it just might make or break your ability to be one of the Rebels at Work.

Book Review-Leading Culture Change in Global Organizations: Aligning Culture and Strategy

Daniel Denison and his colleagues, Robert Hooijberg, Nancy Lane, and Colleen Lief, are focused on how to change the culture of global organizations. Far from the approaches that work for individuals and aware of Peter Drucker’s statement that culture eats strategy for lunch, they are Leading Culture Change in Global Organizations: Aligning Culture and Strategy. (Drucker’s comment is sometimes quoted as culture eats strategy for breakfast, but there doesn’t seem to be a definitive source for this quotation.)

On the Shoulders of Schein

The book starts with a reminder of Edgar Schein’s work through “Either you manage the culture, or it manages you,” and “The importance of distinguishing underlying assumptions from values and behaviors, or superficial artifacts.” In short, there’s something happening below the surface of your activities, and you ignore them at your peril. Change the Culture, Change the Game shares a similar model focused on how to change the experiences that people have to shift their beliefs, so that you can get the right actions and the right results.

They continue to quote Schein in saying that effective cultures always need to solve two problems at the same time: external adaptation and internal integration. That is to say that culture must adapt to changing conditions outside the organization as well as the aspects of the organization which naturally change.

Organizational Chemistry

Back in 2015, I wrote a post about organizational chemistry, in which I explained that the components of culture are the people of the organization and the environment. While this may an oversimplification, the core understanding that culture is a changeable thing is critical to being able to accomplish the goal of moving change from the relatively infrequent periods to the current state where change comes continuously. If you can’t change the culture, you’ll constantly be fighting a losing battle as you seek to introduce change at a rate faster than the organization can accept. It’s what Darryl Conner calls Future Shock in Leading at the Edge of Chaos.

In addition to the challenges of articulating culture, there’s a deeper problem of learning how to create it.

The Toyota Production System (TPS), Lean Manufacturing, and the Transformation

In Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management, the architect of the Toyota Production System and lean manufacturing explains the key points to the system. He makes no attempt to hide or obscure concepts. Still, the gap between knowing how the system works and transforming your organization to it remains large. The truth is that the system that evolved into lean manufacturing challenges the kind of deeply held and largely unconscious assumptions that Edgar Schein warned us of.

Even if you know exactly how you need the system to operate, the way you can change the system to match that new configuration may remain a mystery. While concepts like only producing what you need, receiving parts just in time, and supporting frontline workers stopping the line, there are decades of experience built up that these things aren’t safe or right.

Don’t Burn Down the House

Darryl Conner, in Managing at the Speed of Change, relates a story of an oil rig explosion and a literal burning platform from which a man jumped and survived. Since then, people have stated that you need to have a burning platform to get the change started. Kotter’s first step is to create a sense of urgency. However, there’s a challenge to be overcome where you must create a sense of urgency but in a way that doesn’t create too much stress so that people can’t think or shut down. (See Drive and Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers for more on the impacts of stress.)

The goal is to provide a motivating path forward, something that draws people in rather than leaving them little choice except to jump. Of course, there are times that require a leap from the organization, but using that as a primary strategy tends to burn up your credibility and burn people out.

The Quick Turn and the Slow Burn

The first decision to make when changing a culture is whether the cultural change will be a quick turnaround or whether it will be a transformation – a slow burn. Both approaches have their challenges and consequences and rarely is it clear which solution is best. Should you gradually pull off the Band-Aid, or should you do it quickly and get it over with? The answer depends upon the situation and whether the Band-Aid is a literal or a figurative one.

Some situations are conveniently illustrative. When you hire a turn-around CEO when the organization is hemorrhaging cash, the choice is clear. Similarly, an institution with a long history of trust and prestige or a government organization will necessarily require a longer-term approach. Ultimately, leaders must pick an approach and accept the consequences of the choice they pick.

12 Things

Ultimately Denison’s approach is based on his Denison Organizational Culture Survey. It has four main areas (quadrants), each of which has three sub-components:

  • Mission
    • Strategic Direction and Intent
    • Goals and Objectives
    • Vision
  • Adaptability
    • Creating Change
    • Customer Focus
    • Organizational Learning
  • Involvement
    • Empowerment
    • Team Orientation
    • Capability Development
  • Consistency
    • Core Values
    • Agreement
    • Coordination and Integration

These are the key ingredients of Leading Culture Change in Global Organizations.

Book Review-Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward

Change books generally fall into two broad categories. The first category of books is targeted at the super-large organization and describes structures for change that involve hundreds or thousands of people. The second category of change books are focused on how to accomplish the individual changes necessary. The first category generally acknowledges that all change is individual change. That any organization doesn’t change unless its people change. That source of awareness seems to come back to Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward. Based on the work of James Prochaska, John Norcross, and Carlo DiClemente, the book shares how the most stubborn addictions can be broken by an awareness of where people are along a continuum of progress, from being completely resistant to change to the termination of bad behaviors.

Transtheoretical Model and Stages of Change

It was 1972 when Lester Luborsky first published his findings that all legitimate psychological therapies produce favorable and nearly equivalent outcomes. His work has been replicated repeatedly, as The Heart and Soul of Change elaborates on. However, at the same time, the rates of recovery for those who are addicted is abysmally low. As a result, Prochaska and his colleagues (graduate students and then collaborators) looked for explanations of the problems associated with both self-changers and those seeking therapy to identify what was successful and what was not.

Ultimately, their approach was a transtheoretical model – that is, it spanned multiple theories. It focused on six stages of change – and therefore is often simply called “stages of change.” The stages are:

  • Precontemplation
  • Contemplation
  • Preparation
  • Action
  • Maintenance
  • Termination

What they found is that, at different stages, different approaches were more appropriate than others. They surmised that the “up to 93% drop-out rate” for therapy programs was due to a mismatch of the approaches being used and the stage that the patient was in.

All Change is Self-Change

Mirroring Rogers’ observation of Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices, the trio discovered that, ultimately, it was a personal decision to make the change that mattered. This was true whether the person engaged a mental health professional or not – they ultimately had to make the change themselves.

It reminds me of an old joke. “How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?” The answer? “One, but the lightbulb really has to want to change.”

The fundamental awareness that any change including those surrounding addictions come from personal commitment drives the awareness that organizational changes are the results of individual changes.

Understanding Addiction

Very few people understand addiction. It’s a different kind of thinking and lack of control that can seem foreign even to those who are in its grips. If you’re trying to understand how addiction functions, I’d recommend The Globalization of Addiction and Chasing the Scream as solid references. You may also find Dreamland helpful for enhancing your understanding of the unique dynamics that power addiction and why addicts can be so difficult to change.

Mental Shields Up

When you have trouble getting through to someone whom you’d like to change, you may find yourself on the outside of their mental shields. Detecting an attack, their ego seeks to protect itself. Approaches like those relayed in Motivational Interviewing may help you break through; but, ultimately, if someone’s mental shields are up, they may be unable to accept input about their behaviors.

In addictive behaviors, there are generally consequences that can be pointed to that make it clear that there’s a problem – except the defenses our ego can muster are impressive. (See Change or Die for more.) After all, our reality is a thing that our brains construct, and it’s possible to construct our reality in a way that denies objective fact. (See Incognito for more.)

ABCs

All behaviors – good and bad – have antecedents (A), behaviors (B), and consequences (C). When you pay attention to the process, you can find the antecedents (triggers) and learn to limit them through environmental control (or shaping) or learn to respond to the triggers with different responses. (See Triggers for more about the potential antecedents and what to do about them.)

Despite the limitations of Charles Duhigg’s research and approaches, his The Power of Habit encourages you to shift things until the old habits are extinguished and the new habits start to take hold. Much of this is about changing the reaction to the trigger by creating better awareness.

If Only They Would Change

People stuck in the precontemplation stage aren’t interested in changing themselves. They’re interested in those around them changing. They want less conversation about their issue. They want less nagging. They want others to compensate for them. These approaches are the kindling for a fire of codependency. (For more on codependency, see Compelled to Control.) Because people who are in precontemplation can’t take responsibility for themselves, they ask others to take responsibility for them.

Self-Efficacy and Hopelessness

One of the things that holds people back in their change is the feeling that they’re powerless to overcome their addiction. They have tried in the past, and because they weren’t successful, they assume they’ll never be successful and therefore they don’t even want to consider it. It’s an amazing level of defensiveness for the fragile ego that anyone who has tried to convince someone with an addiction to change is familiar with.

It’s difficult to move people who believe they have little or no self-efficacy that they do. It’s difficult to help others shift from the belief that their circumstances are permanent and personal to temporary and global. This is hopelessness at its core, and it holds people prisoner. (See The Hope Circuit for more on the power of hopelessness.)

Willpower

Much of this hopelessness hangs on the idea that if someone had enough willpower, they’d somehow be able to successfully conquer the forces that keep them trapped in their current behaviors. The problem is this is a faulty understanding of willpower. Willpower is a renewable but exhaustible resource. As Willpower explains, we have to manage and conserve our use of our willpower so that we’re able to have enough reserves when we really need it. Too often, we treat willpower like it’s something that you have or don’t have instead of as a resource that’s constantly changing.

Influence and Nudge both cover the impact of small changes and how they affect behavior as well as how small changes that reduce the need for willpower can have huge results. Sometimes, eliminating the small temptations frees your resources up for larger problems.

Gang Undesirable

One of the strange things that researchers noticed was that undesirable behaviors tended to travel in packs. If you think of a bar, you instantly think alcohol. However, until a few years ago, you would have also associated a bar with thick, smoke-filled air. Nicotine and alcohol travel together, but they’re just the beginning. Have you noticed that most bar food is not good for you? It’s fried, fatty, and loaded with salt and calories.

The bad news is that the gang tries to stay together. Light your first cigarette, and you may want a drink. The good news is that, when you sequentially eliminate bad habits, the later habits are much easier to get rid of – not just because of practice but because the other habits aren’t there to pull you in.

Intervening and Interfering

One of the greatest powers in assisting recovery is the community around you. This community is the larger community – it’s easier to quit smoking when it’s socially unacceptable, the communities of friends you select, and your family. It’s easier to quit smoking when your partner doesn’t smoke. It’s easier to quit smoking when your parents don’t light up when you arrive.

In addition to the subtle cues, it’s important to get caring feedback about your health. However, in some families, any attempt to share your perspective with another family member isn’t seen as an intervention for their wellbeing or caring – it’s seen as interfering.

When you’re interfering, you’re treading into their personal space – a space that you should never enter. Somehow, if they want to kill themselves, it should be okay. While they might support intervening if your family member is holding a gun to their own head, they don’t support you saying something when they’re holding a cigarette up to their head.

The lesson is finding a healthy understanding of what it means to caringly share your concerns about a family members health without accepting the interfering label. Often this also needs a great deal of capacity for detachment. (See Resilient for more on detachment.)

Contemplation: Not Ready to Make the Leap

During the contemplation stage, it’s natural to want to push for action. It’s natural to desire action, because we equate action with progress. However, sometimes the people who are in the contemplation phase have decided they need to make the change, but they just don’t know when. They’re not able to plan for how to make the change because they’ve decided rationally on the change, but they’ve not emotionally accepted the losses that will come as a natural consequence of the changes.

If you’ve accepted the emotional consequences of learning how to change better, maybe it’s time to read Changing for Good.

Book Review-Newsjacking: How to Inject your Ideas into a Breaking News Story and Generate Tons of Media Coverage

Any publicity is good publicity isn’t true; however, often, publicity can be good publicity. In Newsjacking: How to Inject your Ideas into a Breaking News Story and Generate Tons of Media Coverage, David Meerman Scott walks you through the process of getting attention you don’t deserve.

Newsjacking

In short, newsjacking is finding a way to insert yourself into a story that isn’t yours – or to amplify your presence in a story that is yours. Newsjacking is about getting attention by being well-placed to take advantage of journalists’ need to cover breaking stories. While Scott doesn’t break things down like this, I tend to think about these in terms of stories and social.

Stories

For some time now, I’ve been receiving notices about journalists who are working on stories and need credible people to quote. Having written a few books and having a few gray hairs makes me more than qualified to be credible in some circles. So, when the topic of burnout is something that journalists need to know more about or quote someone for, I’m happy to jump in. (My wife, Terri, and I published Extinguish Burnout: A Practical Guide to Prevention and Recovery for The Society for Human Resource Management in 2019.)

The good news here is that you can get some good mentions and inbound links. For instance, The New York Times article that quoted me drove about 700 people to the website in the first week. The long-tail impact is hard to measure, since the link immediately increased our Google page rank. The bad news is that there are a lot of pitches you make to journalists that won’t make it. Though Scott didn’t mention it here – or in his last book The New Rules of Marketing and PR – the main source of journalists looking for quotes that I use is Help A Reporter Out (HARO).

These tend – for me – to be less about newsjacking and more about being persistent in sending a message for a long time.

Social

The real key to newsjacking is seeing a trend on social media and grabbing it. Whether it’s a fire and you start offer free fire training or it’s something that you can connect to with a weird angle or connection, finding something on social then becoming a notable bit for the story can be valuable and can land you in the center of the story.

The trick to newsjacking is coming between the breaking story and the scramble for journalists to come up with more about it – including a unique angle. My problem with this is that you’re going to be chasing a lot of stories that look like they might break only to find a small number that actually convert into journalists looking for something new.

Noisy

Another challenge to the approach – for me – is that you must be noisy and available. That means trumpeting your perspective via every channel known to man – even smoke signals and carrier pigeons. For me, that will turn off my regular followers as I bombard them with the kind of things that journalists might find interesting.

It also means making yourself easily available. Demand explains that small barriers stop people in their tracks, and when it comes to a story, something as insignificant as leaving a voice mail may be a major hurdle. The net effect is that you’ve got to be willing and able to answer the phone the moment it rings – without sounding like you’re desperate.

Newsy

For me, the biggest problem is that I’m not very newsy. I don’t read all the sites, watch the latest happenings, or generally get all that concerned about what some star ate five minutes ago and who they were with. That makes Newsjacking a bad fit for me. However, maybe for you, the only thing that separates you from your next stardom is Newsjacking.

Book Review-Cleaning Up: How Hospital Outsourcing Is Hurting Workers and Endangering Patients

One of the challenging ethical dilemmas that faces physicians is when parents of a child tell them to do whatever they can to keep their child alive. The problem is that, no matter how painful it is, there are some situations where death is the right answer. It’s not an easy call, and no one involved likes the answer, but sometimes there are no real chances for a meaningful recovery. The dilemma for the physician is how much to do and when is the time to compassionately tell the parents it’s time to end the suffering – even if there are technically more things that can be done.

One thing that shouldn’t require this degree of struggle is having a clean – and disinfected – hospital room for the care of patients. However, the research is clear that most rooms aren’t cleaned well. Things are missed and patients are getting sick because of it. Dan Zuberi believes that at least part of the problem is the outsourcing of environmental services workers. In Cleaning Up: How Hospital Outsourcing Is Hurting Workers and Endangering Patients, he lays out the case that something must be done to improve patient safety.

Healthcare Associated Infections

To understand what’s at stake, it’s important to realize that healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) account for additional suffering for around 2 million Americans each year. Of those, roughly 100,000 will die. HAIs are infections that you didn’t have when you arrived at the hospital but that you acquired during your stay. While some progress has been made on reducing HAI rates, they remain strikingly high.

Based on many factors, including the region you’re in, the socioeconomic factors of patients, and the kinds of care that a hospital provides, there’s an expected rate of HAIs. These expected rates are baked into the way that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) pays hospitals. Hospitals are not reimbursed for the care that they provide related to an HAI. Additionally, when a hospital’s rates are poor compared to others in the industry, they face penalties that can be millions or even tens of millions of dollars. A single infection can cost a hospital over $100,000 dollars but may be as low as approximately $13,000. Collectively, the costs of the infections and the penalties are staggering.

Despite this, the expected rate is generally around 0.12 percent per patient per day. So, it is expected that for every 1,000 patient-days in the hospital, there will be 1.2 infections. This doesn’t sound all that substantial until you realize that an expected rate like this creates a greater than 50% chance that someone will have contracted an HAI in your room in the preceding year.

The cost in human suffering and finances to the healthcare system are substantial, and they should be unacceptable. If the airline industry had a similar failure rate, no one would fly or there would be a monumental outcry. However, because HAIs are hidden and distributed across the world, there is no uproar.

Environmental Cleaning

Most of the focus on environmental cleaning surrounds the so-called “terminal” clean. This is supposed to be a complete cleaning and disinfection of the room, and it’s supposed to happen between patients. The problem is that the research shows less than 50% of the high-risk objects (HROs) are cleaned in an average terminal clean. HROs might also be called “high-touch” objects, because they’re the things that are touched all the time. They’re bedrails, light switches, doorknobs, tables, and so on. The result of this poor cleaning is there’s a 40% higher chance of catching an HAI based on the person who had the room before you having that particular infection.

Zuberi pins the problem of poor cleaning on the movement to outsourcing environmental services, though my own research indicates that this is at best an aggravating factor rather than a smoking gun.

Outsourcing the Source of Evil

Outsourcing is done to reduce costs. The general idea is that another organization can run a function better than you can run it in house. You pay them for a service, and they can deliver it at a lower cost. It’s a standard approach across all industries. Relatively universally, it has challenges.

The winning bidder is often unprepared to deliver the service at the level of delivery that the organization is used to getting. Whether we’re talking about help desks or facilities maintenance, often the “savings” are due to a lower quality of service. Even when they want to maintain quality standards, they’re forced to pay less and offer fewer benefits to extract the profitability necessary to pay for the management and sales overhead. The push to lower pay results in higher turnover and therefore increased training costs.

Management at the outsourced contract provider are constantly trying to manage their cost profile to ensure that they remain profitable while sometimes making decisions that hurt them in the long term.

Aligning Metrics

The key to effective outsourcing is to align the incentives for everyone such that the situation is a win/win or lose/lose rather than win/lose or lose/win. When metrics aren’t designed well, situations arise where what is in one party’s best interest is not in the best interest of the other party. Such is the case with most environmental services contracts.

Even when metrics are aligned correctly, the necessary work to collect and verify the metrics isn’t done – because that adds additional costs to the system. As a case in point, there are sometimes – but not always – performance guarantees. However, these require audits of performance, which, because they’re awkward and difficult, are rarely done.

More perversely, rarely are environmental services organizations held accountable for any degree of increased HAIs – even when it’s possible to nearly directly associate those infections with poor cleaning practices. As a result, organizations are incented to reduce the cost of cleaning by reducing time, labor costs, supplies, or any other means necessary – irrespective of whether those decisions negatively impact the patients or the hospital system with whom they’re contracted.

The Working Poor

The result of wage pressures means that the workers are working – sometimes two or three jobs – for such little money that they can barely make ends meet or are slowing falling into an economic pit that they can’t recover from. This is while they’re facing challenges that put them at risk every day. They carry high degrees of stress that compromise their immune system’s capacity to combat the pathogens they encounter daily. (See Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers for more on the impact of stress to the immune system.)

In the struggle to make ends meet, they’ll change jobs for a small increase in pay, because the risk of changing jobs is smaller than the impact the pay increase can mean to their family. Zuberi contends that the wage of workers was nearly cut in half when environmental services were outsourced. This pressure means there’s a scramble to recover the wages they once had. The resulting turnover increases the non-compensation costs of the organization, applying more pressure to the managers to cut costs.

Non-compensation costs include the cost of recruiting, hiring, training, and managing payroll for the organization. Consider the initial recruiting, setup, and training costs for an employee might be $4,000. When wages for the employee are in the $12/hour range, the training and setup costs are roughly 20% of the first-year wages. When turnover is greater than 50% per year, this creates more than 10% of the total cost of the employees. Additionally, the constant turnover creates chronic shortages, further reducing the quality of the cleaning.

Fixing a Broken System

For us, Terri and I, we want to reduce HAIs. That’s why we pursued the patent on the moisture indicating IV dressing. It’s also why we’re making a substantial investment into the development of an augmented reality environmental services training program (AREST). We want to teach environmental services workers how to clean in a way that works for them, is effective, and isn’t expensive. In a sense, we’re trying to do our part to start the process of Cleaning Up the challenges with environmental services. Maybe you can do your part: start by reading Cleaning Up.

Book Review-Trying Not to Try: Ancient China, Modern Science, and the Power of Spontaneity

I think everyone wants the easy life. We’d love for things to be effortless. We’d all love to be powerful. These things are at the heart of Trying Not to Try: Ancient China, Modern Science, and the Power of Spontaneity. Though we all want to get to effortless and powerful, no one seems to have cracked the magic formula.

Wu-Wei (“OOO-WAY”) and De (“DUH”)

To set the context, we need understand two Chinese words. The first is wu-wei, which is pronounced “ooo-way”. This word is literally “no trying” or “no doing” but is about effortless and unconscious. The second word is de, pronounced “duh.” It is virtue, power, or charismatic power. It’s the thing that others see and can’t put their finger on but know they want. When we’re doing wu-wei, then de naturally follows. The more we can be in an effortless state, the more de we radiate.

System 1 and System 2

The concept of things being effortless doesn’t mean that things are being done. It’s more accurate to say that things are getting done automatically from what Daniel Kahneman calls System 1. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more.) It’s the hot cognition that happens seemingly without thought. It’s automatic.

The need to consider, ponder, and evaluate slows things down and feels unnatural. The effortlessness embodied in wu-wei is the kind of automatic processing that Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool describe in Peak. It’s when there has been so much purposeful practice that everything has been converted into something that happens effortlessly – without conscious thought.

Steven Kotler speaks of the same thing in The Rise of Superman when he explains that athletes need to get into flow – and stay there – if they’re going to accomplish the amazing and seemingly superhuman things that they do. Kotler bases his work on the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Flow.

Going with the Flow

Slingerland is careful to draw some distinction between wu-wei and flow. He explains that the focus on the relative degree of challenge between skill and challenge has become a preoccupation with Csikszentmihalyi’s work, and how this challenge isn’t conducive to effortlessness. Here, Slingerland has a point that Csikszentmihalyi’s initial data didn’t always reflect folks who were in challenging situations when he did his initial research. Sometimes, folks who reported the conditions associated with flow were doing rather mundane things.

J. Keith Miller commented in A Hunger for Healing about a Zen saying, “After enlightenment, draw water, chop wood.” Mark Epstein in Advice Not Given says, “After the ecstasy, it is said, comes the laundry.” Thupten Jinpa in A Fearless Heart explains that what we call walking meditation is a part of “post-sitting practices” – the idea being that monks bring full awareness to their everyday activities not just when they’re sitting meditating. In short, our attainment of enlightenment doesn’t free us from the simple work of life; we need to continue to find peace, joy, and effortlessness in all we do.

Kathleen Norris in Acedia & Me comments that she regains herself by doing ordinary things. She drains away the challenges of acedia – which is roughly equivalent to burnout in today’s language – by doing things in an effortless and accepting way. (You can learn much more about burnout at ExtinguishBurnout.com)

While Slingerland takes issue with Csikszentmihalyi’s focus on challenge, he does so in the context of ancient Chinese thinkers, who struggled to find the way to effortless action. When we think about this instead as enlightenment or bliss, we can distance ourselves from the specific concern of challenge and turn the question on its head. The answer as to whether the path to wu-wei is paved with effort, without effort, or with only some kinds of effort seems unclear. What is clear is that the destination seems to have been found by several who took different roads.

Indirect Acquisition

Some states are only reachable through indirect means. Consider happiness. Those who pursue it are often miserable. They believe that somehow they need to be happier than they are. Many books have been written more or less explicitly about how to find happiness, including Stumbling on Happiness, which explains that most of the time what we believe will make us happy doesn’t – or doesn’t for long. Happiness looks at happiness from the perspective of a skill rather than an end-state and narrowly avoids the trap that you’re never in the state “enough,” because you can always become more skillful at something.

The trick it seems with wu-wei is that you can’t pursue it directly. This reminds me of the story of the two Hindu goddesses – wealth and knowledge – and only by pursuing knowledge will wealth come to you. (See The Heretic’s Guide to Management and A Philosopher’s Notes for more.)

Two Selves

One of my favorite models of all time is Jonathan Haidt’s Elephant-Rider-Path model from The Happiness Hypothesis. The rational rider (System 2) sits on top of the emotional elephant (System 1), and they’re in a constant battle for control. The elephant allows the rider to feel like they’re in control until the elephant starts to care deeply about something.

The key to wu-wei is to build a relationship between our elephant and our rider such that both trust the other rather than distrusting the other. By integrating these two aspects of our psyche with respect, we spend less time battling internally and have more energy to share with the world.

In Service of Other

To get to wu-wei, we’re encouraged to do things in service of bigger things, like improving others’ lives or moving forward humanity. This sentiment seems to be wired into our being based on the game theory attempts of Axelrod in The Evolution of Cooperation. Folks like Robert Greenleaf urge us to pursue Servant Leadership. Many have written about the power of doing things for others and how this makes us feel better.

Even twelve-step groups are clear about the power of service to harmonize people and make them return to a state of being more whole.

Domestication

It’s not that any of us always have pure thoughts or thoughts about others. Even the work of the Jesuits wasn’t successful in eliminating these selfish tendencies. (See Heroic Leadership.) However, the more that we seek to channel our passions in ways that are positive, the more domesticated our passions become and the less energy we must spend trying to consciously control them.

Returning our energies to other things, we can accept the occasional selfish thought while recognizing a generally other-focused perspective on life.

Step-by-Step Guide

Perhaps the greatest challenge to wu-wei or any form of enlightenment is that there is no one who can show off the path to achieve it. There’s no 3, 6, 8, or even 12-step guides to becoming enlightened. Instead, there are a variety of thoughts and approaches and a seemingly endless array of folks who have made it there but are unable to articulate their path.

For the few who are able to articulate a path of enlightenment, they seem focused on very high bars of self-sacrifice. These high bars are not the kind that most people can make – and as a result, they can’t follow the recipe. Perhaps this is intentional, or perhaps it’s a rare person who is able to reach enlightenment or moral goodness. However, perhaps it’s that the shallow slope needed by most people to reach this elusive state isn’t a prescriptive path that leads to predictable results. Perhaps the path is the result of the person themselves and what they need most.

Compensation for Virtuous Acts

Some people do virtuous acts. Whether it’s work, a connection, money, or whatever to help someone else out, these virtuous acts help drive our interconnectedness as a society – until we learn that there’s a catch. They’re not really being virtuous. They’re doing something for us with the expectation of something in return. More than just karma, they expect that they’ll get some sort of tangible benefit from it.

We’ve learned to distrust even the virtuous act for fear that people want something from it.

Unfakeable

In Inside Jokes, there is the suggestion that we may connect with others who share comedy with us, because, at their very, core your response to jokes is unfakeable. Paul Ekman coined the Duchenne smile as a genuine one. (See Emotional Awareness, Trust Me, and Social Engineering for more.) This unfakeable nature makes them ideal for detection. If someone is able to display the Duchenne smile, then they must really like it.

Similarly, it’s thought that wu-wei shows a naturalness that cannot be faked. A peacock’s feathers are an extravagance that serves no material purpose except to show peahens that the peacock has something going on – otherwise he couldn’t afford to spend such effort to make such lavish feathers. With wu-wei, you cannot fake the naturalness, because to do so would require conscious control, which would break the whole flow of the moment. In The Rise of Superman, Kotler shares the stories of high-performance, extreme athletes who are killed by their sports, presumably because they tried overthinking their situation and couldn’t make the right moves at the right time.

Trying Not to Try is a paradox. It’s something that must be accepted. That being said, it seems like if you’re going to try not to try, you’ll have to read Trying Not to Try first.

Book Review-The Human Side of Change: A Practical Guide to Organization Redesign

In the late 1990s, there was a growing awareness of the importance of people in the organizational change process. Too many failed mergers and acquisitions had opened a small awareness of the need to consider how people may or may not follow the leadership wishes blindly. That’s where The Human Side of Change: A Practical Guide to Organization Redesign comes in: it’s Timothy Galpin’s effort to create better awareness and tools for managing the people side of the change process.

The Model

I stumbled across Galpin’s work through my exploration of change models. His model, which consists of nine wedges, is a process for improving the chances for a change project to be successful. It looks like this:

The steps he includes are familiar:

  1. Establish the need for change
  2. Develop and disseminate a vision of the change
  3. Diagnose/analyze the current situation
  4. Generate recommendations
  5. Detail recommendations
  6. Pilot test recommendations
  7. Prepare recommendations for rollout
  8. Rollout changes
  9. Measure, reinforce, and refine changes

These steps parallel most of the other models for change, including the need to create a sense of urgency (Kotter), to unfreeze (Lewin) and others. It’s familiar, because its circular or cyclical nature implies that the process is iterative or continuous – like Deming’s PDCA/PDSA.

The Reality of People

The key insights that Galpin offers are around how people really behave as compared to how we want them to behave. For instance, knowing that experts are often boxed in by their hidden assumptions about the way things work, so what they see is not what might be. Similarly, Galpin is clear that often the grapevine – the informal communications network – quickly takes control from the formal communications as for what is happening in the organization.

He’s also clear that people are not always transparent. There are things that they hide from others for reasons of fear, the desire to maintain power over others, or sheer apathy at sharing the information. The way that this plays out in an organization is a Johari Window.

Johari Window

I’ve spoken about the idea of the Johari Window in both The Black Swan and The Secret Lives of Adults. The short version is that it’s a two-by-two grid separated along the axis of us and others, with each having an unknown and a known option. The original work goes back to Joseph Luft and was used in the context of individuals and their self-awareness. Galpin extends this to the organization and helps us to see how organizations suffer from the same blind spots and facades that individuals do.

In short, organizations must be careful to learn as much as possible about themselves to minimize blind spots. With the exception of the brand image, care must be taken to not create too large of a facade that must be maintained. Communications – internally and externally – should be realistic and honest.

Communications

Galpin supports many of the kinds of communications recommendations that you’d expect, including the need to be more open than one might want to be at first, messages should be linked strategically, and they should be proactive rather than reactive. More interesting is the comment that communications should be realistic and honest.

Brené Brown speaks about how people minimize the grit that was necessary for them to reach where they are. She calls it “gold plating grit” in Rising Strong. It’s the tendency to minimize or deflect the challenges. Galpin’s call to be honest forces us as communicators to acknowledge the challenges – and ideally help the organization know how we’re going to conquer them. It’s too easy for us to deceive ourselves into believing our change project will be easy.

The Resistance

Galpin speaks about the resistance as: not knowing, not able, and not willing. These roughly equate to the phases of ADKAR to increase awareness, desire, knowledge, and ability. I resist Galpin’s framing of this because of the awareness of Bridges’ work on managing transitions, which focuses the awareness on resistance of loss instead of resistance of the change.

The top level of Galpin’s model – not willing – is rare and may represent folks who are in the precontemplation phase in the Stages of Change model. That being said, the resistance is still focused on loss – of the current status quo – towards something new.

Coaching

Galpin is an advocate of coaching, carefully explaining that coaching is positive, and criticism focuses mostly on the negative. He’s also a fan of being clear up front that everyone will be receiving coaching. In An Everyone Culture, Robert Kegan et al. share the strategies from three organizations and how powerful it can be to build a culture of accountability that believes everyone should be coached from every direction.

Maybe it’s time to get a bit of coaching towards The Human Side of Change.

Book Review-Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management: Special 100th Birthday Edition

Lots of people speak about the Toyota Production System or lean manufacturing, but few have taken the time to look at what the originator has to say about it. Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management: Special 100th Birthday Edition is his writing about the development of the system, including the thinking that led to its development.

In the manufacturing world, what Toyota did was unprecedented. They changed the way that automobile manufacturing worked so that a small company could compete with the much larger – and initially more efficient – auto manufacturers in the United States.

Talk to the Gemba (and Write it Down)

The Gemba are the people that do the work. The Gemba is the workplace itself. When one says talk to the Gemba, they’re saying go to the place of the greatest knowledge about what is actually happening and learn from them. Don’t make guesses. Don’t believe that you know better. Simply ask them and stop to listen to what they say. Then write down what they say, so you don’t forget, and you won’t have to ask them again.

This is very different than the way things used to work. It used to be that management would decide they knew what needed to happen better than the people who were actually doing the work – and frequently they were wrong. Being wrong only created frustration and animosity between the workers and management.

Only What You Need

Manufacturing is used to the idea that you can produce more if you keep producing the same thing continuously for long periods of time. The typical response to this was to run very long runs of things. You’d run well more than what you really needed, because it seemed to be efficient. The problem is that this created inventory of unfinished goods that would need to be held and managed. It’s called inventory carrying cost – and it can be a real problem for some organizations.

The mentality of optimizing the current operation – the current thing that’s being manufactured – whether or not it can be sold in a reasonable amount of time is problematic for the overall profitability of the organization. However, to be able to be more agile and produce different things in the right quantities requires addressing a keystone problem.

Quick Changeover

In most manufacturing scenarios, changing over a line from producing one thing to another thing takes time – a lot of time. While machines can be optimized to keep running whatever they’re making, the process of changing from one product to another is seen as wasted time. After all, there’s no production during the changeover. With changeovers running into the hours (or, in extreme cases, days), it’s easy to see why there is a reluctance to change to the next thing.

To enable the production of the right amount of parts at the right time, you’ve got to get good at changeovers – like minutes good. This change in the fundamental dynamics of the manufacturing process enabled the move to producing only what was needed when it was needed. Suddenly, the inventory carrying cost for what you didn’t need was much larger than the cost of making the changeover at the right time.

Just in Time

If you further reduce your need to store and move things, you can gain further efficiencies in the manufacturing process. What if all the parts that you needed to assemble something showed up minutes before you needed them instead of months? You’d have fewer materials to warehouse, and you’d spend less time moving them around to keep out of the way of your current operation. The net effect is better efficiency, but it requires another keystone change.

Getting internal and external providers aligned so that they provide just the right amount of parts at the right time is an artful dance. It’s a dance that, when done well, reaps great rewards. Instead of planning monthly receipts of parts, you expect daily, and as a result you need roughly 1/30th the storage.

This paved the way to another innovation: vendor managed inventory. In this scenario, vendors are engaged to restock warehouses and stores of their customers. They bill the customers for the new products they provide, and the customer is freed from the concern of managing enough stock. It requires a level of communication and trust, but the result is fewer supply chain oscillations and better overall efficiency.

Work and Activity

The key learning that is at the heart of lean manufacturing is removing activities and aspects that don’t add value to the consumer. Even the most diligent worker who is focused on the wrong thing adds no value to the end product. Ohno was clear that people routinely confuse working with producing valuable work.

He was confronted with the fact that United States workers were nine times more productive than their Japanese counterparts. The reasons for this were many, but none of them were because the Americans were working harder. It was about how the labor was being used and how focused the labor was on productive items.

Automation with Human Element Added

I spent my high school years in Michigan, and I can remember touring the GM plant in Saginaw, MI as a part of some school field trip. One of the things that was the most confusing at the time was when our tour guide pointed over to a man sitting at a table reading a newspaper and said, “That’s the most productive guy in the plant.” It didn’t make sense to me that the guy doing no work was the most productive guy. Maybe he was on a break. The guide explained that he was reading a newspaper, because all the machines that he was supervising were running efficiently. If a machine stopped, he’d jump up and fix it.

It seems somewhat wasteful to have an employee reading a newspaper. However, when you look at it from the point of view that the machines are doing the work – they’re automated – and there is a human element added to fix problems, it starts to make more sense.

The innovation, which came from the fabric-making business, was to create machines that stopped when there was a problem so that someone could fix them rather than creating defective product. Defective product necessarily costs the organization money and therefore efficiency. Creating systems that have humans fixing problems is an ingenious way to improve efficiency – but not as much as separating human time from cycle time.

Human vs. Cycle Time

Nine women cannot have one baby in a month. It’s a fundamental problem of throughput and bandwidth: nine women can have nine babies in nine months, but one baby in one month isn’t possible, because gestation takes nine months. A similar misconception occurs around the amount of time that it takes for a part cycle to complete and how much of that time must be tended to by a human. Consider a process that takes 10 minutes. Of that, one minute is setup, and one minute is removing the part from the machine. In this scenario, only 2 minutes require human intervention, even though the cycle time of parts is 10 minutes.

To maximize efficiency, you’d put one person between five machines, cycling through them sequentially setting up and removing parts. You might only get 90% efficiency from each machine, because the machine is waiting for the human – but, conversely, the overall output of the human will increase almost five-fold. Over time, this matters, because humans and raw materials are invariably the most expensive parts of the manufacturing process. While machines are capital intensive and seem like large costs at the beginning, over time, their relative cost is minor.

Quality Built into the Process

As I mentioned earlier, defective products necessarily reduce profitability and therefore efficiency. Reducing defects is a goal of most manufacturing environments. However, there’s a secondary goal of discovering defects sooner. The closer that you discover a defect to its creation, the less cost that the defect has to the organization. If a hole is misaligned, it’s easy enough to scrap the part and melt it down or whatever. If the part goes through ten more operations before needing the be scrapped, its cost is much larger – perhaps ten times as large.

Rather than having a separate quality department that checks items after they’re done, everyone in the plant becomes focused on making sure the products are right. This shift, while simple to state, is difficult to get everyone to embody. However, it means fewer defects – due to the attention – and less costly defects, as they are discovered and resolved sooner.

Fat vs. Muscle

One of the most common ways that I’ve personally observed lean manufacturing (and other variants of lean) being misused is to cut the muscle instead of the fat. Because of market or internal pressures, the organization too aggressively pursues the removal of cost from a process and the result is that instead of removing fat, you begin to remove the very muscle that makes the system work.

Too often, I’ve seen transformation experts blunder into a process without a thorough understanding of the overall picture. As a result, they remove key activities that reduce costs throughout the process, because, on paper, the costs look large in the beginning.

Ohno was clear that accounting games and the ways that you view the process can distort the results and can take a system that’s capable of great benefit and create great harm.

Must Teach

In Ohno’s view, every supervisor must be able to teach. Here, he’s primarily referring to the capacity to teach the line workers how to do their job efficiently, but I believe there’s a greater obligation to teach managers what it’s really like to be on the line doing the production work.

There’s no optionality to Ohno’s view on this subject. In fact, he states that he never gets upset with line workers – only supervisors and managers. He’s upset, because they’re not teaching or supporting the front line workers appropriately.

Desirable Difficulty

One of the hardest things for me to learn in developing training systems is that the best way to ensure students will remember what they’re taught is to get the level of difficulty right. Too difficult, and the student will give up. Too easy, and they won’t retain their learning.

Ohno instinctively knew this as well, and he encouraged the right amount of difficulty by challenging line workers to test their knowledge of how things worked with Ohno through experimentation. He made it uncomfortable to disagree with him but acceptable to do so – as long as people were willing to back it up by developing proof.

Black Swans and Over Optimization

The positive impact of Taiichi Ohno and the Toyota Production System should not be overstated. However, it’s important to recognize Nicholas Taleb’s counterbalancing argument from The Black Swan. We must be careful to not over optimize a system so that there’s no resiliency. We should eliminate as much waste as possible while recognizing that some waste is necessary. One of the early criticisms of the TPS approach was the impact when parts didn’t arrive on time. If the parts were missing, it would stop the line, and that would be a big cost.

However, Ohno, in alignment of desirable difficulty, contended that this would encourage work to ensure that it never happened – or, when it happened, that it wouldn’t be repeated. Ohno expected black swans in a way that many of his followers missed. Still, he admits that there were difficult times for Toyota, and the approaches he used still needed refinement. That’s perhaps one of the best things about and a reason to study Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management.

Book Review-Lean Change Management: Innovative Practices for Managing Organizational Change

Agile software development becomes lean development and lean startups, and sometimes the folks who grew up in software development transition into organizational change. They bring with them ideas from software development and information technology in general to attempt to make organizational change easier. That’s what Lean Change Management: Innovative Practices for Managing Organizational Change is. It’s a guide to organizational change management from someone who grew up in software development and agile approaches.

Satir Change Model

Jason Little views change from the lens of the Virginia Satir model, which is the model he was introduced to organizational change with. The model consists of a status quo (called the late status quo) interrupted by a foreign element, which is met with resistance and chaos, until a transforming idea allows for integration and a new status quo. The model grew from Satir’s work with helping individuals change.

Little recounts his introduction as being elected as the person who resisted the change and was eventually persuaded to move to the new status quo by some crafty people who were trying to make the new status quo a reality – and who knew that Jason was a fan of Johanna Rothman, who was teaching next door and kindly came over to help Jason change.

Starting the Change

Little is clear that the change process doesn’t start on some magical date that you’ve plugged into your project management software. Your attempts to manage the change start when people begin to mumble about the change and wonder what it means to them. If change is about managing the human aspects of change, then the idea that it becomes relevant when people begin to worry makes a great deal of sense.

The Mojito Method

Little explains that his approach to change management is based on Jurgen Appelo’s Mojito Method. The short of this method is that you mix ideas from multiple industries and disciplines into something that is uniquely your own but is based on sound working practices. The approach is what many would recommend for creativity and innovation. (See Creative Confidence, The Innovator’s DNA, and Design Thinking for more on mixing ideas.)

In Little’s case, he leans on his software development background.

Lean Change Cycle

Little explains the approach to organizational change management as an extension of agile and lean principles. Things like iterate fast, create minimum viable products, and learn are at the core of the approach. He uses an iterative process like Deming’s PDCA/PDSA cycle. However, in his cycle, it starts with insights, which create options, which lead to experiments that lead to more insights. The experiments themselves can be broken into preparing, introducing, and reviewing.

The general idea is to start the process and keep iterating, and therefore learning, until you reach the success that you desire.

Culture Hacking

Little introduces another technique brought to the agile community by Stefan Haas. The culture hacking process consists of three components: the crack, the hack, and hacking zone. They are as follows:

  • The Crack – The dysfunction of the organization that feels uncomfortable.
  • The Hack – The action that you take to amplify the discomfort of the crack.
  • The Hacking Zone – The degree of danger that your hack exposes you to as follows:
    • Green – Safe. These hacks aren’t a threat to you or anyone else.
    • Blue – Risky. These hacks aren’t likely to get you in serious trouble but might.
    • Red – Dangerous. These hacks will most certainly upset people. The question is whether they’ll fire you, label you a rogue, or accept the change.

I’ve learned through my study of learning that sometimes there’s a degree of desirable difficulty and the necessity to make it intentionally difficult to the learner – but that the difficulty must be in a very narrow band. Culture hacking seeks to make the appropriate level of discomfort overt. (See The Adult Learner and Efficiency in Learning for more on how to make learning more effective.)

Embracing Uncertainty

At the heart of Little’s recommendations lies one of the fundamental perspectives of agile. While traditional software development and organizational change believed that you can script every move, agile believes that the kinds of problems being worked are inherently too complex to be resolved by one group doing all the planning. Agile works from the premise that everyone is a part of finding the solution, because allowing everyone to solve their own problems may lead to sub-optimal solutions for the individual instance but ultimately will result in better overall outcomes.

Said differently, agile assumes that uncertainty can’t be removed, and therefore it’s more important to adapt to the uncertainty than to try to plan around it. The Soviet system of Leninist Marxism didn’t work, because central planning wasn’t efficient enough to compete with the energy produced by capitalism.

If you’re uncertain about whether you’re ready for a change, maybe you can approach your uncertainty with Lean Change Management.

Book Review-Conversations of Change: A Guide to Implementing Workplace Change

The greatest irony in a book with a title like Conversations of Change: A Guide to Implementing Workplace Change is to realize that there are few – if any – conversations of change really going on. Tucked in the back of this book is a list of the people that Dr. Jen Frahm believes are notable. They’re the leaders who are helping to move change forward. When I followed the URLs in the book, I found about 1/3 of their websites were gone completely. About 1/3 of the people on the list hadn’t posted a blog post in the last year or more. The remaining 1/3 of the sites had at least a moderate level of activity. So much for the conversation. This rate of failure is much higher than I’d expect for a book published less than 4 years ago.

Context

One of the great things about the book is that it helps to set the context for a change conversation. Despite many of the missing people, the key players, including ACMP and CMI, are explained as well as other players in the change management and organizational change management space. This baseline understanding can help people orient in the change management space.

Included in the orientation is some information about models and how methodologies and models aren’t a replacement for wisdom and experience. However, another one of the aspects that Dr. Frahm covers is the players in the change management process, which bears some investigation.

The Roles

I’m a fan of helping people orient to a space through the development of role charts. I created a role chart for software development and for training development. Here’s Frahm’s list for change (with my definitions/summaries):

  • Change Leader – The leaders (executives and directors) willing to publicly support the change.
  • Change Sponsor – The person ultimately accountable for the change.
  • Change Agent – The person who moves the change forward, often without direct, formal authority.
  • Change Champion – A person who extends the reach of the change team to encourage users and others to change.
  • Change Consultant – An external party brought in to support the change.
  • Change Manager – A manager whose people are impacted by the change.
  • Change Communications Advisor – A person who supports communications related to the project.
  • Change Analyst – A person who is responsible for managing the intersection of the change with different audiences and smoothing over any rough edges.
  • Change Enablers – People from supporting teams that help to facilitate or block the change. Commonly, these people are found in HR, Communications, IT, and Accounting.
  • Subject Matter Experts – The people who know their work best; what Taiichi Ohno would call “Gemba.”
  • Super Users – Highly skilled users who push the edges of the change.

Fakes and Failure Rates

One of the most challenging aspects about change is it’s difficult to tell who understands change and who doesn’t. It’s easy to say that you understand change management. It’s harder to prove that you understand how to manage the nuances of numerous sub-disciplines to navigate to safe waters. Here, Frahm quickly talks about certifications before moving on to a pet peeve.

There’s an often-quoted failure rate of 70% for change projects. John Kotter (see Leading Change and The Heart of Change) and Darryl Conner (see Managing at the Speed of Change and Leading at the Edge of Chaos) both use this failure rate as a part of their conversation about change. Frahm argues that the original number of 70% doesn’t have a basis in research. My response is, “duh!” Sorry, I learned a long time ago that if a percentage ends in a zero, there is practically zero chance that it was a research-based number. Research numbers rarely come out so cleanly.

The problem, in my estimation, isn’t whether the original 70% failure rate is research-based but rather whether it’s a reasonable estimate. We learned from Superforecasting and How to Measure Anything that you don’t always have to chase apparent accuracy when you can validate the number is roughly right through other means.

Frahm herself introduces IFOTOB – delivered “In Full, On Time, and On Budget” – as a project management metric. It’s a hard standard for projects, particularly heuristic projects, which invariably change projects are. Heuristic projects have no one definitive path forward, and the solutions are almost never completely understood at their outset. A quick search of research seems to indicate that 70% of all large-scale projects fail to hit all three of these targets. In short, while the number isn’t research-based, it’s reasonable if you’re willing to use a strict standard. It’s generous if you’re going to add “On Value” – meaning the project returned the value it was supposed to return.

Agile

Frahm stumbles into a conversation about agile software development. Having a software development background, I have a different perspective of agile software development. First, agile software development reduces ceremony. That is, instead of formal anything, it replaces it with understanding and co-creation.

Second, agile is about understanding humans and how we work best. We’re solving real problems for real people, and that matters. Finally, software development, like change, is a heuristic problem. There’s no one right way to do things, and there is instead only a path to be found by taking one step, reassessing, and then taking the next step.

RAS and the Resistance

Frahm speaks about our reticular activating system (RAS). It’s the master filter of our brains, and it’s the part of us that controls the difference between sleeping and waking. The RAS can become focused, and the things that are more salient suddenly are raised to conscious more. When you’ve recently purchased a new car, you’ll see that car on the road everywhere, because your RAS is tuned into that particular make and model. (See Got Your Attention? and Change or Die for more on the RAS.)

Frahm is concerned that by looking for resistance, you’ll train your RAS to look for more resistance and it’s all you’ll see. Here, the psychology gets murky, but I believe the thinking is off a bit for two reasons. As Daniel Kahneman explains in Thinking, Fast and Slow, we have a negative bias. In short, we’re going to look for resistance naturally because it’s a threat to our change. Second, the RAS isn’t a one-trick-pony. The RAS can – and does – monitor for anything that is anticipated to be salient. It’s important to look for resistance (see Why People Don’t Resist Change) but also to look for bright spots to get both the good and the bad. (See Switch for more on bright spots.)

Practically Speaking

One of the best things about the book is that it generally takes a very practical perspective on change, from making a point that change projects with fancy sounding names end up getting very negative nicknames to recognizing that not everyone influences through charisma. (See Nick Morgan’s book Trust Me for more on charisma and authenticity.)

If you want to get a solid framing for change management without academic mumbo-jumbo, it may all start with Conversations of Change.