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    Entries in project (13)


    Bad systems beat good people


    'A bad system will beat a good person every time' - so said W. Edwards Deming. 

    You've got some great people in your team, on your project, in that meeting, attending the workshop. You really have. Great people.  

    The thing is... the system - whatever system is at play in the project, meeting, workshop -often isn't working to support those great people. It may well be stifling them, stopping them, slowing them down or just slowly breaking their spirit, enthusiasm and sense that they can achieve something. 

    Let those great people give the great ideas, suggestions, hunches, hopes and insights they have. Create a system that leverages the people and doesn't limit them. 

    When you plan your next meeting, workshop, session, project, what systems will support the people to bring their greatness? That's the stuff to fix. Don't blame the people. Remedy the system or structure that's inhibiting them, hindering them or keeping them from doing their best. 


    Where's your project on the path of change

    Many change and transformation projects are spoken about as a 'path', 'journey', 'ladder' or 'roadmap'.

    In short, we're here and we want to get to .... there.

    Sometimes change and transformation can feel alot less safe than a simple path or road. It feels more like a gigantic cliff! And Jack Canfield's quote about 'making your parachute on the way down' or the entrepreneurial advice to 'grow wings as you're plummeting towards earth' (aka 'grow a pair!) ... who even wants to jump into a change when you're not sure how safe the whole path will be, let alone the landing!

    Whether it's a structural change, a process or system change or a shift in culture towards new ways of working, it's in that metaphorical language we speak (paths, journeys, ladders and roadmaps) that we hear the cues and clues about where we are and where we want to get to.

    We also hear about some of the roadblocks, barriers and obstacles (hey, more metaphors*) that are both hindering and helping progress through a transformation.

    *Hint: Listen out for these metaphors; you can build lovely rapport and help people shift when you hear these metaphorical barriers and then talk about them, rather than telling people to 'move on'.

    Change and transformation doesn't just involve the stuff or things that are changing; it involves the people, the humans doing the changing.


    How about a ladder?

    A path, journey or roadmap up say, a ladder of change can be tricky, treacherous... and for some impatient leaders, suitably time wasting. Knowing where you're at can help with leading that change.


    At the bottom of the ladder are organizations and teams in chaos; they’re losing ground and on the decline. They are resistant to change, fearful and frightened of change and don’t know where to begin. They’re moving in reverse. They think they're standing still but it's worse than that. These are the businesses that go ‘belly up’, that become insolvent and are wound up. Too soon and they’re gone.

    There are plenty of businesses close to chaos but they’re attempting change and transformation. They’re a little stuck. When teams and organizations resist change – which often happens in the early stages of a change or transformation - there is a sense of being in neutral; poor levels of productivity and a feeling of not getting anywhere. Going in circles, simple changes aren't being adopted and it’s all too easy to continue the old ways of working. Why change?

    Progressing up the ladder (or along a path of change) are organizations and teams that are intent on change and transformation but they’re… distracted. They’re too busy looking at competitors and not responding, or they’re focused on internal changes that deliver little impact (or are unnecessary in the first place), or their attention is taken off the positive process of change by other significant troubles. This includes industrial, legal, financial or media crisis stuff. They're in the media everyday. They’re busy all right, but productivity and transformation suffers because they’re focusing on distracting stuff.

    If you think of an organization as aiming to make forward progress through change and transformation, each of these stages of the change path or ladder see the business slipping, with wheels spinning, engine revving loudly, just not getting anywhere!

    As a remote Australian outback fan, I'm often w-a-y out there, holidaying in our 4WD, taking paths less travelled, seeing the ochre-red sands of central Australia or the remote bush tracks where few tourists go. Spinning wheels? Not good. Get traction and get outta there!

    And in change, that's where we get to a tipping point…get outta there.

    Up over this point in change and transformation is where productivity changes, focus is shifted and positive friction is achieved, traction is gained.

    At the shift stage, organizations and teams are making changes and transformation. The decision is made, they're onto it. They’re bringing new processes and ways of working to the business … but it’s still a hard slog. Change is not the norm; the dynamic of progressive change isn’t leveraged and change takes significant effort to get traction and to stick.

    Once the team gets to perform, productivity goes up, change initiatives begin to ‘stick’ in a positive way and the path to being transforming culture is smoother. Positive change initiatives build on previous changes made and the culture is a higher performing one. There is acceptance of change as the norm; ‘This is what we do. We change. We keep changing because that’s how we do things around here.’

    Ultimately, organizations and teams that reach transform, do so because they are agile and adaptive; they make change stick, and then reinvent, experiment and review to make change an ongoing part of how they work. 

    From some of my blog posts, enews and social media shares, I often hear back from people in industries and sectors that say they are too low down on this path towards change. That they want to get moving; they want to change quicker; they need to or they'll be disrupted, replaced and decimated as a business... and possibly an industry.


    Everything about your organisation speaks

    In an earlier career in communications, I remember learning (and then lecturing) that 'everything about an organisation speaks'. It speaks to you about the culture; everything from how you're greeted, to what you see, to how people are sitting in pods and rows, to how a meeting room is 'all table' and no space.

    How your organisation responds to change says so much about its culture. And if you want to change culture, you need to change how you see, lead and communicate about change.

    The way you lead change says everything about your culture. Change brings renewal; if you want to change culture, change how you lead change.

    This is why I think the reference to change as a death, a dying or a grief process is done. References to endings and beginnings are done. Change is ongoing. It needs to be part of "how we do things around here."

    Rather than allowing change to be a burden, a challenge or a drudge, change can be the catalyst to shifting culture. The move is on from spinning wheels and being stuck in old ways, to a shift, up up up to higher levels of traction and performance.

    To change culture, change how you lead - see and speak - of change.


    Some sooner is better than all later






     As a child I remember when my mother Shirley (who just turned 80 last week!) would whip up a tasty cake on a Saturday afternoon.

    The ingredients would come out and then one by one they'd go into the mixing bowl. After the 'mix' and the 'pour' into the cake tin, the bowl and the beaters were mine… all mine! <evil laugh>

    Tasty cake mixture that hadn't seen the oven yet! Some cakes mixture leftovers were tastier than others but it was a hint of the saying 'some sooner is better than all later.' Sure, I would have a little of the cake once it was cooked, but there was always that test or taste of what was to come, with some baking time.  

    It's the same with projects, ideas you're working on and pieces of work on your 'to do' list. 

    Get it out there so people can have a taste of some of it sooner, rather than waiting and giving them the whole finished thing later ... which they may not like the taste of. Gone! All that time working on something that wasn't to their taste. 

    Software developers and other types of technology workers use this approach often. They deliver smaller working pieces of their projects quickly so that people can test them out and give feedback. Changes are made and the next working version or piece is tested and delivered.

    The Lean Startup movement sees it as a 'minimum viable product'. 

    Quality gets built in. Overall delivery to market will be quicker and you'll stay more competitive. And there is the 'buzz' of getting something shipped that helps motivate and inspire us to action… and then more action.

    Ok … so what have you got sitting there on your list or the 'not quite done' project file that could be put out there now? Today. As it is.

    Give people a taste of it now. Ask and listen to feedback. Make improvements. And then keep that conversation going about what they want and how they'd like it. Mmmm tasty. Yum!  


    PS. That visual up there of my mum's cake, that's your free hand drawn icon this issue. I'll quickly sketch an image of a cake to represent key concepts like: celebration, anniversary, birthday (of course), reward, end of project, years or duration (number of candles). An oval shape for the top, lines down the side, through the middle for the layers, and some thicker lines for candles with little lines for candle flames. 




    The ultimate in remote and distributed collaboration

    When I'm running facilitation training programs and I gather a bunch of 'concerns, questions, challenges' at the start of the day, many people raise the remote hookups and telconference topic.

    Whether it's a video hookup or audio only, there are plenty of tricky challenges:

    - how do you keep people engaged

    - how do you KNOW if they're engaged

    - how do you achieve what you need to do in the time available

    - how do .... <insert your challenge and question here!>

    I am an occasional listener (wierd as it may be but thanks to my father's careers and keen interest in all things mechanical) to the Air Traffic Control feed of my local airport in Melbourne. 

    Think about it - hundreds of people flying through the air at speed in the airspace above you, in big metal tubes, with a couple of people 'up front' in control of the metal tube. 

    On the ground, air traffic controllers observing, managing and directing traffic through and around the airspace. 

    I think this is the ultimate in remote and distributed collaboration and communication. 

    Heights, speed restrictions, approaches, departures, angles, gate allocations, weather advice, wheelchair requirements for passengers (yes, they arrange this in the air) and many other key pieces of information are communicated, resolved, discussed and arranged with some, but not full visuals. 

    Shorthand, codes and abbreviations are used as part of their operational jargon. It's efficient.

    Questions are asked by pilots - 'can we cancel our speed restrictions'? And they are answered by air traffic controllers.

    Controllers ask questions of pilots - 'can you use runway 27 or do you need 35'? 

    And problems are solved - 'our headset for arrivals transmission is not operational. Can you relay please?'

    If day in and out these critical pieces of information are able to be encoded, communicated and decoded in what can be perilous environments, a phone or video hookup with the team in another city shouldn't be so hard!

    • You must allow more time than you think you'll need for the topic.
    • Allow for time to introduce, engage, map out the agenda, take questions.
    • Allow time for problem solving, information sharing and collaborating.
    • Allow time for general discussions and 'wonderings' by participants too. 

    In your haste to get 'stuff done', you might be communicating some messages you had no intention of conveying! The consequences could be far reaching and the rework may be costly and time consuming. Check understanding - check again for questions. 

    Play air traffic controller at your next remote meeting and focus on clear communication and great collaboration. 

    And now... tuning in to the feed, the massive A380 is coming in to Melbourne from LA. QF94. Now that's a BIG project to get on the ground safely!

    A view from the tail camera on board the A380, coming in to land in Melbourne from LA. 



    Press pause - check you're talkin' about the right thing

    Ooo eeee! Sometimes I think these sorts of behaviours are long gone but I was in a meeting today and three colleagues all spoke over the top of each other... for several seconds. It felt awkward, rude and just... well, wrong!

    I was taking a project brief in this meeting. My job = listening. But I had to step in and play facilitator, to make sure I got to hear what each of them were saying. 

    Sounds so basic, so simple. One person speaking at a time. But no. 

    Three people trying to get 'air time' at the one time so I literally hit the 'pause' button. 

    I said 'Let's pause a moment and hear what each of you need to add to this brief'.

    I pressed 'play' for each of them so we got to hear one 'track' at a time. Two of them had relevant content and thoughts and information. The third had great stuff too, but so unrelated to what we were doing there.

    I step in and play facilitator again and say 'How does this content relate directly to the project and the brief today?'

    She says 'Well actually it doesn't. Sorry about that.'

    I'm happy to play traffic cop, air traffic controller, DJ or director - whatever metaphorical role you like - in a meeting and conversation - but if you're going to speak over someone... well, just don't.

    Wait until there's a break in the music and then start your track.