People Aren’t Sick Of Change. They’re Just Sick Of Change Programmes

I don’t buy into the idea that humans intrinsically hate change. I just think that by the time we’re in our 30s or 40s, lots of our experience of change – particularly in the workplace – has been more negative than positive. Instinctively rejecting it is a learned response – Tom Cheesewright

People , we hear, are tired of change. They have change fatigue.

We are sometimes told that people will resist our ‘change efforts’ or even need to be assessed for their ‘change readiness’. Change readiness, in case you’ve not had the pleasure, is the “ability to continuously initiate and respond to change in ways that create advantage, minimize risk, and sustain performance.”

Failing your change readiness assessment could be seriously career threatening. 

Despite this so-called change resistance all the evidence shows that people want change on a scale like never seen before , both in our wider society and the workplace.

What is to blame for this apparent ‘change paradox’?

My contention is that there are some similarities with how change – or rather the lack of meaningful change that make people’s lives better or easier – manifests itself in our communities and in our offices.

Simply put, people’s experience of the delivery of change is often far from what they have been promised.  This is put even more simply by Peter Vander Auwera – “people don’t resist change, they resist bullshit”.

The Big Problem With Change Programmes

The birth of the management change movement dates back to the 1960s and 1970s when big consultancy began to see a vast new market – convincing organisations of the benefits of ‘transformation’.

The philosophy proposed that there’s always a better version of you out there in the future and by following a series of best practices, toolkits and templates that version of you can be easily realised.

However change is not just about going from one point to another, reaching a mythical ‘to be’ state and stopping there. The most important thing is what takes place from point A to whatever happens next – and that will almost never be what you predicted or what it says on a Gantt chart. None of us can predict the future and nobody can possibly know the butterfly effect when you begin to change things.

That’s why large-scale transformations become too big to fail – resulting in a ‘wall of silence’ when objectives don’t get met. They simply cannot deliver on what was promised. So what’s the point of doing them?

We Need Trojan Mice, Not Trojan Horses

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Image courtesy of @whatsthepont

Chris Bolton has written an excellent series of posts (links in here) on the concept of Trojan Mice. Trojan Mice is a phrase Euan Semple used in his blog about ten ways to create knowledge ecology .  Unleash Trojan Mice. Don’t do big things or spend loads of money. Set small, nimble things running and see where they head.”

For Trojan Mice think of small safe to fail tests and learning exercises rather than big change. Trojan Mice are small, well focused changes that address a problem but are introduced in an inconspicuous way. without the fanfare of transformation. They are small enough to be understood and owned by all concerned.

This is grassroots change rather than top down. And because the change is being made by people close to the problem they don’t resist it – they lead it. 

Many organisations don’t like this approach though because it is , by definition, unpredictable.  Trojan Mice will eventually deliver rewards; but you may not get what you were expecting.

I’d argue that big change never gives you what you were expecting anyway – so you may as well embrace a bit of uncertainty and release the mice. It’ll cost you a lot less money – that’s for sure.

Towards A Community For Change

Change does not always happen where, when or how we want. Organisations are just collections of people but we often forget that and make it more complicated than it needs to be.

I don’t know how change happens where you live but where I am people just connect with each other over shared interests and they try things out. There aren’t any spreadsheets that I know of.

The problem with employing lots of Change and Transformation people is that they often start changing and transforming lots of things that never asked or needed to be changed or transformed in the first place.

Grass-roots change presents senior managers with a paradox because it means directing an approach to change without insisting on or even approving specific solutions.

However , if we are to bridge the gap between the appetite for change and the experience of change delivery, we need fundamentally new approaches.

People hate change?

No, they don’t. They hate to get changed by other people.

Enabling A New World Of Public Service Delivery

The UK now finds itself in its lowest-ever position in the Global Trust Index, just one place off the bottom, with only Russia below it – Ed Williams President and CEO, EMEA

The results are in: Nobody trusts anyone anymore.

The 2020 update of the Edelman Trust Barometer, which aims to survey trust and credibility around the world, reveals that we are living in a ‘trust paradox’.  We have almost reached full employment with more people lifted out of poverty than ever before. And yet – globally –  no institution, be they government, business, non-profit or media— are trusted.

There’s also a lack of faith that the government can address our problems. Sixty six percent of respondents said they do not have confidence that “our current leaders will be able to successfully address our country’s challenges.”

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Institutions are variously described as remote, too slow. Too bureaucratic. Not agile enough.

However , there is hope.

75% of people want to see much greater collaboration from institutions, with each other and involving citizens. Indeed, across the board, collaboration is key to regaining trust. Partnering with other institutions to solve complex issues is one of the most important steps to regaining people’s trust.

Many more people place their trust in experts and local communities.  80% of respondents said they trust scientists, 69% said they trust “people in my local community” and 65% said they trust “citizens of my country.”

When nearly 70% of people trust others in their community and want to see greater collaboration from civic institutions, you have something positive to build from.

Yesterday I was in Cardiff with Wales Audit talking about the opportunities and challenges for accelerating innovation across the public and private sector.

These kind of debates about how organisations can move from the old world to the new are increasingly vital if we are to do anything about a trust deficit.

The excellent sketchnote in the header (thanks Chris Bolton! AKA @whatsthepont) nails the key behavioural shifts that organisations need to make to become ready for an era of equal partnerships rather than one based upon command and control.

  • A shift from targets and sanctions to supportive coaching
  • A shift from compliance and rules towards continual learning and improved outcomes
  • A move from hierarchy to partnerships through networks and collaborations
  • A move from broadcasting and controlling the message to conversations across trusted networks
  • And a seismic shift in transparency about failure – a move to a test and learn culture

As Chris said – we’d be naive to think this is going to happen overnight – and it’s a spectrum rather than a binary choice. Sometimes you DO need sanctions and you need a hierarchy.

That said, and as the Edleman report lays bare, incrementalism is no longer enough. People are looking for big bold change to deliver a discernible improvement in their lives.

More than ever people need to feel that organisations are competent and have the ability to fulfill their commitments. We need to believe they have the right motives, are benevolent, act fairly and honestly. We need to see they are transparent, that they are learning from mistakes and failure.

Enabling this new world of service delivery means shifting from ‘what matters to us’ towards ‘what matters to you’ . This requires quite a profound behaviour change from our organisations.

It means reducing the gap between organisational rhetoric and the reality. It means doing less talking and more listening. It means stopping saying how great your organisation is. It means engaging rather than broadcasting. It means defaulting to transparency. It means partnering.

The first step to regaining trust is to believe in someone or something. Perhaps that’s a good place to start for many of our organisations.

  • Do people believe we are benevolent?
  • Do people believe we are even competent?
  • Do people believe we even understand the problem we were set up to fix?

Distrust will only be combatted through leaders being open and accountable and having public discourse with one another and with the people they collectively serve.

Concern about disinformation will only be combated by providing real evidence of the kind of outcomes we are achieving. It’s time to kill it with the awards for ourselves.

The real positive here is that people aren’t sick of change, they want change on a scale like never before.

Whether we are capable of delivering it, or whether we are even prepared to, remains to be seen.

Putting The Needs Of The User Before The System

Are some countries more innovative than others?

Certainly many have tried to measure it, with the UK being outperformed by the likes of South Korea, Israel and Finland.

As the CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla has said, the role of Government when it comes to encouraging innovation is crucial: “We need to make sure that we change the way that we operate so that we can remove bureaucratic processes. Innovation and bureaucracy, like water and oil, they don’t mix well together”.

Government regulations can have both positive and negative effects on the innovation process. How can we get the balance right?

Last week I was in Newport, Wales, hosting a couple of workshops at the Future Generations X Conference.

Wales is a country that is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to innovation and collaboration. It is attempting a seismic shift in the way that public services are required to think and operate.

In 2015 it enacted the Well-being of Future Generations Act which requires public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other, and to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change.

The ambition is to take the big ideas in Wales and across the world that can be adopted, shared and advanced across all public services.

That requirement to think differently about the wellbeing of future generations has all sorts of practical impact on day to day decision making.

  • What is the future generational impact of evicting a family from their home?
  • What is the future generational impact of jailing a father?

These are big complex problems and there are no easy answers.

The people attending my workshops spoke of the genuine challenges of collaboration at scale, of moving away from top down funding arrangements and targets where performance indicators drive the behaviors rather than the users.

Changing structures that have been set up with the specific purpose of measuring predetermined outcomes is never going to be easy.

When a target is set by someone sitting in an office who has never met an actual customer how on earth can we expect the outcome to be what the user actually wanted?

However, there is an acceptance from the top of Government that shifting behaviours towards a genuine user focus is the way forward.

The challenge here is simple to say but complex to achieve: putting the needs of the end user before the system.

All of this means investing in people and giving them the space to think differently.
It means giving them permission to challenge preconceived practices and ‘rules’.
It means taking a different attitude to risk and learning from failure

This theme is developed by Russell Webster citing a report by Professors Chris Fox and Kevin Albertson. The recommendations are specifically about probation services but I’d argue apply equally to almost all public sector innovation.  It recommends:

  1. Developing innovative ecosystems where a mixed economy of public, private and Third Sector organisations collaborate together for the greater good.
  2. A collaborative approach where different partners work together in pursuit of shared value.
  3. A co-created and personalised approach both at the system level in terms of service design delivery, and at the individual level in terms of more personalised services.
  4. A system which fosters localism in order to foster innovation.
  5. Greater investment in a broader understanding of evidence.

As I wrote last week pre-emptive change doesn’t lend itself to conventional approaches to governance. It’s likely to need adaptive or visionary models of change, rather than heavy-handed, top-down approaches.

What’s happening in Wales seems like a genuine attempt to move away from ‘simple but wrong’ approaches to public policy. It’s a huge ambition and I’m sure it will be a rocky road but I wish them well.

Putting the needs of the user before that of the system sounds simple but is in fact hugely complex.

But no-one ever thought doing the right thing was easy did they?

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Moving From The Reactive To The Pre-Emptive

As Matthew Manos has written, many of us in the social sector are employed in the expectation that the things that go wrong will always go wrong. 

Indeed, our work often profits from past societal failure rather than the contemplation of the signals of failures that have yet to exist.

The entire premise relies on reaction. 

  • The prisons are full. Build more of them.
  • People feel unsafe. Put more Police on the beat.
  • A+E = overflowing. We need more nurses.
  • There’s people sleeping on the street. Just build more homes.

Reactive services are not wholly bad – far from it – but our relentless focus on managing the past rather than inventing the future is limiting our scope for something a lot more radical.

The challenge is how to switch our organisations and our work to be pre-emptive. And that requires a whole system change.

  • A move from telling to listening.
  • A move from managing to coaching.
  • A move from filling the gaps with services to closing the gaps through connections.

That’s not easy when the whole system is built on reaction.

Let’s be honest, anyone can be reactive. And cynically you could say that reactive approaches keep a lot of people in jobs.

To be pre-emptive on the other hand, to truly anticipate future need and to create an offering around it, that takes real skill.

As a society we’ve now tested to destruction the idea that we can solve a problem by just throwing money at it.

Too often we’ve become trapped in a reactive spending cycle on public services none of which will not solve the underlying problems of short-term thinking and even shorter term spending decisions.

Everyone knows the cycle of crisis, cash, repeat doesn’t work. So why do we do it? 

One of the issues is the funding itself and how we approach financial planning.

Most financial planning is actually financial guessing the same as strategic planning is often strategic guessing. Wrapping things up in a 20 page report makes it seems like we know we what we are doing – but the truth is, we are just managing and reacting to the failures of the past.

And this is one of the problems we have: innovation and the pre-emption of the future is treated the same way as everything else – whether it’s forecasting how much coffee people drink or estimating annual sick days.

We seek certainty where this is none and assurances of success where it can never be assured. We have grown afraid of failure. And if there’s one thing we all know it’s that if you fear failure you cannot innovate.

Pre-Emptive Change: Fix It Before It Breaks

Moving to a pre-emptive mindset means shifting to a business model that acknowledges the fundamental ambiguity in everything it does.

Simplistically it could be broken down into four stages.

FutGenX - Paul Taylor Prevention Workshop

Shifting Perspectives

Many of our organisations have a bias towards getting quick answers. We favour execution rather than deliberation and contemplation. A pre-emptive approach means acknowledging we don’t understand our world half as much as we think we do. It means creating the time and the space for getting to the root cause of our problems.

Reframing Problems as Opportunities

If creativity is applying imagination to address a challenge then innovation is applying creativity to generate unique solutions. However to arrive at unique solutions you often have to reframe the question you are asking. The first step in reframing problems as opportunities is about unpacking all the assumptions we have. Remember – the point of reframing is not to find the “real” problem but to uncover whether there is a better one to solve.

Exploring Opportunities

We need to balance the right mix of fresh ideas and experience to foster innovation and ensure that new ideas are constantly explored and entertained.

This means becoming comfortable with abortive early attempts to solve problems in new ways. As we wrote over at Bromford Lab – whilst it might seem like the quickest way to get results is to jump straight to pilot, in fact doing things this way can often take longer to arrive at the right solution, or in extreme cases it can even lead to bad ideas being scaled. The best approach is to use prototyping and testing to rapidly learn more about a problem, fail safely, kill bad ideas early, and move on quickly.

Preventative Interventions 

Pre-emptive change doesn’t lend itself to conventional approaches to project management. It’s likely to need adaptive or visionary models of change, rather than heavy-handed, top-down approaches.

In preemptive change, R&D expenditure and an approach to constant iteration are decisive factors, reflecting a need to properly invest in the future.

Whatever our business plans say – there is no certainty in the future.

Let’s stop pretending there is.


This post was written as an introduction to a workshop taking place at ICC Wales on January 10th 2020 for FutureGen X. The session itself will be shared in next weeks post. 

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Ending Our Obsession With Leadership

Organisations need to completely rethink what it means to lead. It’s not about one person or even those residing at the top anymore. In today’s world, everyone has to adopt a leadership mindset. We have to think of ourselves as members of a leadership community  — Patty McCord, former chief talent officer, Netflix

Leadership worship – the act of mythologizing those near the top of organisations – is holding us back now more than ever.

When we look to others to make decisions, set the rules or uphold the culture we actively disempower ourselves, levying a huge inefficiency tax upon our organisations.

How much inefficiency? It could be 75% or higher.

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According to a recent report –  the vast majority of employees wish their boss or manager would give them more responsibility, with 83%  wishing ‘leaders’ would ask for their opinion or input more often.

Far from shirking, employees are actually crying out to make more of a contribution at work.

Those kind of numbers suggest enormous amounts of talent, ideas and innovation are being squandered – all in the name of supporting a hierarchical approach to leadership by the few, rather than the many.

It’s not as if those leaders appear to have all the answers anyway. According to the World Economic Forum  86% of people agree that ‘we have a leadership crisis in the world today’ with an alarmingly weak correspondence between power and competency.

Additionally, a series of reports from MIT argues that current leaders lack the mindset needed to bring about the strategic and cultural changes required to lead in the new digital economy.

So you have two things going on:

You don’t have to be an expert in innovation to see that’s a busted model.

But is it our own obsession with leadership that is actually supporting this dysfunction?

As Neil Tamplin has written , in today’s world of work people want to be accountable for their own actions and our leaders can’t possibly know the fullness of every decision they make. In our increasingly uncertain operating environments, this model is setting ourselves up to fail because we choose to avoid vulnerability and uncertainty in favour of comfort.

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Fear of Failure

So what’s stopping us? One reason organisations might not want to include their employees in their decision-making involves our focus on outcomes and a fear of failure.

The more people involved in decisions means the greater the risk of screwing things up – or so the conventional thinking goes. Mark Robinson has argued though that it’s often better to have poor outcomes with a great decision-making process than it is to have good outcomes with a poor decision-making process. His reasoning is that “you need a culture where people aren’t to blame for decisions. What your culture should be about is learning from bad decisions.”

Perhaps we need to lose the language of leadership altogether.

A Google search for leadership traits reveals a tiresome focus on visioning, strategizing and feedback loops – the kind of management bullshit we should have left back in the 1990s.

The real traits that matter such as empathy or self awareness, are key attributes for all human beings , not just for those of us who have a couple of line reports.

You will be hard-pressed nowadays to find a business that does not have some sort of a mentorship or development programme geared towards the leaders of tomorrow or emerging or aspiring leaders.

Hardly any of those self-same businesses will have programmes aimed at developing the ideas of tomorrow or creating the organisation of tomorrow.

It’s all about leaders. 

Arguably we are prioritising the perpetuation of existing systems and structures over meaningful change. Unless we address the root of the system, unless we really address how organisations make decisions and engage people, then we are not changing anything materially.

The new world of work requires us to become less fixated on the leader and more focused on leveraging the community at every level of our organisations.

Breeding the idea of the leader as superhero is getting us nowhere fast.

As we begin a new year the most radical thing you could do is rip up your plans for leadership development – and concentrate instead on how you can democratise innovation for the 80% rather than the 20%.

 

Collaboration, Creativity and Crap Offices: The Top Five Posts of 2019

The word blog is a conflation of two words: Web and log.  This blog is essentially a diary of what I’m thinking; albeit a diary that is meant to be read by others, and that hopefully inspires some creativity.

I started the year with an intention to post each and every Friday – something I managed just 34 times this year. We all know consistency is the key to successful blogging so my New Year’s Resolution is clear:

Be. More. Consistent.

I know that what is most popular is not always what is best but it’s always interesting to see what people come looking for on your blog.

Here’s the five most popular posts in 2019 – in reverse order with the link to the original in the title.

5 – The Danger Of Listening To People Who Talk A Lot

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One of the problems we face , according to this piece, is that we are drawn to extroverts. Those who talk well and talk lots command attention in meetings – and they get an unprecedented amount of airtime in modern organisations. This obsession with leadership – the loud and the powerful – is something we need to rebalance in 2020. Can we let the introverts in a bit more?

4 – Why We Don’t Collaborate

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Despite the hype – collaboration isn’t easy and isn’t the way most of our organisations operate. In fact – if we don’t teach, measure, encourage or reward collaboration it doesn’t tend to happen. This post helped bag me a couple of speaking slots and the contacts I’ve made/ conversations I’ve had since have convinced me that when we do collaborate we tend to collaborate on projects not best suited to collaboration! Watch out for an early January post on that.

3 – If We Want Different Relationships, The Doing Must Be New And Different Too

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In 2019 there’s a been a lot of talk of giving communities more power but precious little evidence of it. Perhaps next year we’ll see some of the resources that are meant to trickle down finally have some impact.

As the post says – you can’t change a relationship without actual changing your behaviour.  So let’s change it. As I said in my last post, the most important thing all organisations could do right now is simply demonstrate that we see ourselves as equal partners with communities rather than as supreme rulers of the vulnerable.

There’s a once in a generation opportunity here if we are brave and bold enough to embrace it.

2 –  Five Ways Social Media Can Inspire Creativity

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The second most popular post this year was actually published in 2016 – when almost no-one read it! It exploded in popularity in 2018 and continued it again this year.

The central message – break out of your bubble and actively follow people you don’t agree – is one that a lot of people still aren’t hearing. To quote Nick Cohen – never mistake your Twitter feed for your country.

1 – Why The Death Of The Office Can’t Come Too Soon

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The most popular post of 2014 is also the top post of 2019 – by some way.

I guess this demonstrates the power of a catchy title but also the stresses the need for us bloggers to not neglect older content that could be still relevant.

I think this post is popular because a lot of people are still frustrated with crappy workspaces and what comes with them . When and where we are productive is as individual as our genetic code. Five years on we are still waiting for a radical review of the purpose of offices and that means having to think very differently about what it means to “go to work” in the next decade.


 

Thanks to everyone who has read my posts this year and particularly those who have shared and commented on social media.

Remember you can also never miss a post by subscribing at the top of this page.

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and I wish you and your family a happy and healthy 2020!

Very Best Wishes,

Paul x