Tag Archives | Change

Management Lessons from My Cats – Part II

Note: This is the second of two posts I wrote last April and didn’t post until now. Don’t ask me why. Better late than never.

Everyone knows that cats are “low maintenance,” which is why some people prefer them over dogs.

Dogs are not low maintenance.

I have two cats (or they have me). Two cats are even lower maintenance than one cat, believe it or not, because they rely on each other for a lot of play, companionship and cleaning support.

Except for right now, when they are separated for twelve days during the convalescence of one. Abby, of course, requires more attention than usual while I learn how to administer medicine, look after her wounds, and scratch her ears, neck and chin inside the satellite dish.

But Rocket requires more attention right now, too. Not only does she not have Abby for company, but I am spending more time with Abby, so I have to be sure to spend more time with Rocket, too.

Both of their worlds have been rocked, and they are needier and more anxious than normal. Change Management for Cats 101.

And it occurred to me that while cats are Low Maintenance, they are not No Maintenance.

Just like team members. And teams.

Some people – and teams – require little supervision and management. But even they require attention at times. The challenge is knowing how much and when. If you can get that right, they purr.

What kind of attention do you appreciate from your management? What kind of attention do you give to your team members? How do you shift gears to help them cope with Change? What makes them – and you – purr?

PS – Abby is now fine. After what seemed like an eternity of keeping the cats separate, the vet pronounced her Healed and removed the satellite dish. (Which she gave to me, since I had paid for it, but really, if I can’t pill a cat, do you think I’ll be able to put a satellite dish on one single-handedly? Not. Very. Likely. But I’m adhering to Murphy’s Law for Packrats: It’s stowed away in the closet, because if I keep it I’ll never need it.)

Stop Making Sense

Have you ever been stymied by logic that you know must be flawed but it successfully keeps the status quo in place? By getting to the hidden beliefs behind that logic, we can begin to make a difference.

Here are two true stories that can help demonstrate this. Consider the following:

Story #1

Once upon a time there was a social services agency in a famous city. This city was very proud of its image but, despite its image and beloved status, it had – and has – a very real Skid Row area. The agency served the Skid Row population, and it was located in a down and dirty neighborhood that was, among other things, strewn with litter.

One day, someone noticed that there were no trash receptacles on the street in this neighborhood. A delegation from the agency was sent to the city to ask that garbage cans be installed on street corners in the neighborhood.

The city, in its infinite wisdom, said “No.” The reason was, “If we put out garbage cans, people will just put garbage in them.”

? ? ?

Story #2

Once upon a time, there was a large company that prided itself on its quality customer service and the strength of its customer relationships. This company, despite its image, did occasionally have unhappy customers. Those customers occasionally reached out to the company have their complaints addressed.

The company had a toll-free number specifically for complaint calls, but that number was unpublished. It wasn’t in any of the company’s printed materials, nor was it on the company’s website. Because it was difficult to find, it was not unusual for otherwise calm and reasonable people with reasonable concerns to be frustrated and even furious by the time they got to someone who could address their issue.

It was proposed to The Powers That Be that the “hotline” number and email address should be made available on the company’s website.

The Powers That Be, in their infinite wisdom, said “No.” The reason was, “If we publish that number, people will call.”

? ? ?

What the…?

Those two scenarios are head-scratchers – each seems like a simple, common-sense solution that is illogically rejected.

Yet, the reasoning behind each rejection has a certain logic to it. On the surface, at least, it is about resources.

If the city had strategically placed trash receptacles around the neighborhood, it would have had to spend money to not only purchase the trash cans but also provide pick-up service – an additional labor expense. That wasn’t in the budget.

If the company had published its toll-free number and customer service email address, it might have had to hire another person to handle the increased volume of calls. That wasn’t in the budget, whereas the hidden costs of people routing calls was spread across various budgets.

In both cases, the seemingly simple logic trumps any arguments to the contrary. And so the status quo is maintained. Such improvements rarely make it into the budget for next year, however. Why? Because of the unexamined beliefs that surround them.

It is these beliefs that provide the structural support for the tunnel vision that keeps the status quo in place. What might those beliefs be?

  • This is Eden! We don’t have garbage here. (Denial.)
  • People who litter are moral degenerates who create their own problems.
  • People who create their own problems have to live with the consequences.
  • We, therefore, only need to do the minimum necessary to protect ourselves (from rats, from disease, from bad publicity).

So let’s look at the possible belief system for our second scenario:

  • We don’t have complaints; our customers love us. (Denial.)
  • People who complain are crackpots who have created their own problems.
  • People who create their own problems deserve what they get.
  • We, therefore, only need to do the minimum necessary to protect ourselves (from lawsuits, from bad publicity).

There is a certain logic to this belief system, even if that logic is flawed. But one thing I remember from my first college philosophy course was this: If one premise in an argument is flawed, then the conclusion cannot be true. In the scenarios above, the first premise is certainly not true, and the second premise is, at the very least, debatable.

But here’s an important consideration: I can speculate all day long, but if I don’t get verification of those beliefs, then I am only acting on my own beliefs and not on sound and current data. It is essential to respectfully investigate the real beliefs that underlie a system or decision or I may also be operating on flawed logic.

Stop Making Sense

Only if one looks for and examines the underlying belief system that supports a decision can one begin to understand why the situation never changes. Change will always be resisted until the underlying beliefs are addressed.

So, what to do? When faced with such logic and belief systems, there are three primary options:

  • Accept the situation as it is and collude with the system.
  • Accept the situation only long enough to leave.
  • Pay attention to the underlying beliefs and act accordingly. This option has two sub-options:
    • Keep a low profile, do not rock the boat, but handle individual situations according to a different belief system and make a difference for individuals. This is the path of Corrective Actions.
    • Hold those beliefs up and expose them to the light of day. Sunlight is, after all, the best disinfectant. This is the path of Root Cause Analysis and Preventive Actions.

The last option takes energy and it can make you unpopular if not done with Patience, Persistence and, most importantly, Compassion.

Patience, Persistence and Compassion

The patience, persistence and compassion are very important: We must remember that the people who buy into these belief systems aren’t trying to be difficult, and they aren’t trying to hurt others. It would be easy to say they are dumb, or bigoted, or lazy. But often they are really trying to do a good job – to protect the organization, to save money, to be efficient. Those positive intentions should be honored. But they cannot be accepted at face value without colluding with the system.

Effective Organization Development can help. OD is about improving human systems, which is best done by strengthening the human processes through which people get their work done. (Check out this Definition of OD at the Center for Human Systems for more about that.) These human processes are driven by beliefs that often are not expressly stated, so part of the work of the effective OD practitioner (and of anyone who is trying to improve human systems) is to uncover the beliefs that drive the human processes. In other words, negative, dysfunctional beliefs must be uncovered so that the human processes can truly be improved.

The $64,000 Question

Here is my question for you: How do you shine sunlight on underlying beliefs without everyone involved getting sunburned?

Creativity, Change, and the Edge of Chaos

Not so long ago I wrote about chaos and our fear that chaos is the only possible outcome – and a negative one at that – of trying something new. In that post I wrote about the importance of suspending disbelief in the idea of a positive outcome. (You can read that post here.) I even went so far as to suggest that Chaos is not necessarily bad, at least as a transitional state.

Well, in a recent blog post at Rise of the Innerpreneur, Tara Joyce writes that Chaos is the result of too much structure – and the result of too little structure. What? Chaos as a result of too much structure? That’s right. Most of us would probably accept without a second thought the idea that Chaos is at least a possible result of too little structure.  But with too much structure, a system strangles and the system fails, also leading to Chaos.

When a structure is changed or taken away, we fear chaos. I wrote about this in another blog post about my recent experience with circles. At a recent conference that was held in Open Space format, the typical conference structure did not exist. But that lack of structure did not result in Chaos: “It was somewhat uncomfortable, at least initially, for those who are more comfortable with Structure – even if they admitted it was only so they could resist that structure – but there was no Chaos.” There was likely no Chaos because the old, rigid structure was replaced with a different structure. Even a change of structure can feel like chaos must be just around the corner. But we have to live at the edge of chaos in order to change.

Tara makes an excellent point:

“Living at the edge of chaos

This is where life and creativity exist. They can’t be limited by too much structure or failed to let unfold in the moment through too much planning.

It’s a process of listening to, and trusting in, the ideas within us; then revealing those ideas through our action.”

I love that. The edge of chaos as an ideal state. In order to grow, in order to thrive, we must live at the edge of chaos, whether in business or elsewhere in life. I would also submit that living at the edge of chaos is an antidote to tunnel vision, which is a symptom of too much structure – in thinking and beliefs, and in human systems.

In my earlier post I proposed that Chaos is not necessarily a bad thing – as a transitional state. You know how when you start a major house-cleaning project, it always looks worse than when you started? That is Chaos as a transitional state. But maybe it is really the edge of chaos – it simply brings Chaos from being part of the wallpaper to being front-and-center while a new order is created.

At the end of my earlier post, I asked these questions:

Can we suspend our disbelief in the possibility that the outcome of trying something new can be anything other than anarchy, failure, or ridicule?

Can you suspend your disbelief long enough to give it a try?

Now I reframe those questions: Are you willing to live at the edge of chaos in order to make a space for creativity, change, growth?

And I add this question: Are you willing to help others step out onto the edge?

Life’s ABCs – About Blindspots and Change

Once Upon a Time, I was preparing a presentation for a group of IT students. The topic that had been given to me was, “This Isn’t Your Father’s Career” (a reference to a car ad at the time). A keystone of my presentation was the importance of being able to effectively deal with change: Technology changes every fifteen minutes, and one must be able to roll with the changes, so cultivating the ability to cope with change would be a key factor in their future success.

Silly me, but I was surprised that they just gave me blank looks when I presented this idea. I still don’t know if it was because their lives had been so full of change so far – changing classes every semester, changing family structures, changing majors – that they just took change for granted, or because their lives had been so stable that they couldn’t even imagine the types of change they would be facing. Both groups probably had a number of surprises in store for them later in their lives.

The reason I am telling you this story is that I realized something important when I was preparing for this presentation. I saw myself as being very good at coping with change; I had moved around the country several times, I had started several new jobs quite successfully, and I was a change agent in most of those jobs. The great realization, however, was that I was really good at dealing with change – as long as it was my idea. I realized that in many cases where a change wasn’t my idea I had to take some time to get used to the idea, to internalize it. Then I was great at implementing it and making it work. But not always right away.

The beauty of this realization was that once it dawned on me, it became easier for me to deal with changes that were not my idea. What had once been a blind spot was now visible to me.

I think that I am not alone in this. In the course of managing programs, facilitating meetings or providing career counseling to others when we are often discussing changes of one kind or another, I can see when people get that overwhelmed, Deer-in-the-Headlights look. People often say to me, “I’m not good at dealing with change.” Or, they’ve said, “I’m great at dealing with change, I specialize in facilitating change.” Either way, when I tell them my story, people invariably stop, giggle and blush, and then often break out into laughter. They nod appreciatively. And they relax.

Dealing with change instigated by others – or by fate – requires us to acknowledge that we don’t control everything. We do, however, get to control how we respond to the change. Am I going to resist? Am I going to take the role of victim? Or am I going to take ownership of how I respond?

The other important thing I realized is that if I am not alone in how I deal with changes that aren’t my idea, I must be more sensitive to the impact on others of the changes I instigate. That is easier said than done.

How do you feel about change? Do you welcome it? Do you instigate it? Do you drag your feet? Do you drag others along with you, kicking and screaming? Answering these questions honestly may help us all as we move forward through these interesting times.

PS – If you’re dealing with major changes right now, you might be interested in my e-book, “Remember to Look Up: 35 Tips for Making a Comeback in Your Job, Career or Life.”

Grassroots Change

Although I had met her twice before, I recently had the opportunity to spend some time at the 2010 BAodn conference with Beth Waitkus, the director of the Insight Garden Program (IGP) at San Quentin State Prison, and I was struck by the profound nature (no pun intended) of what she and the program’s volunteers, supporters and inmate participants are doing.

Beth is a quiet, dignified and unassuming person, but I had the distinct impression that she is completely present to whatever she is doing and whomever she is with.

We were in an “open space” discussion group that had been convened on the subject of getting “regular people” involved in processes. Beth spoke eloquently about the participants in the IGP and the stages they go through in becoming involved and engaged in their classroom and “business” discussions. It seemed to me that an important aspect of the process was the earning of the participants’ trust that it was safe to speak honestly and that their input was valued. A transformation occurs as participants learn to not only value and respect their own input but also that of others.

This would be a significant accomplishment in a business setting, where there can be many obstacles and barriers to engaged participation, but in a prison setting it is nothing short of astounding. And it shows us that even when there are significant constraints, amazing things can be accomplished – like a dandelion growing out of a crack in the sidewalk, or a lily growing high in the crotch of a tree.

What, you might be asking, IS the Insight Garden Program? The Insight Garden Program (IGP) operates a 1,200-square foot organic garden in San Quentin’s medium-security prison yard. The IGP website says:

“The Insight Garden Program (IGP) provides rehabilitation to self-selected prisoners through the process of organic gardening. Through the act of caring for plants, the qualities of responsibility, discipline and mindfulness transfer to the interpersonal realm – by growing plants, people also “grow”… In our classes, men learn about landscaping and gardening, including (but not limited to): Planning, budgeting and design, irrigation, soil amendment, seasonal garden maintenance, and plant ID and propagation. By working in an organic flower garden, men also … (develop) an awareness of their connection to and impact on the world around them. They learn about the interconnectedness of human and ecological systems and how the principles of the natural world, such as diversity and cooperation, transfer to all levels of human systems.”

Pretty neat stuff, isn’t it? But it relies upon a fairly radical basic assumption, that the participants in the program can learn, can change, and have something worthwhile to contribute. That is radical in many organizations, let alone in a prison setting.

Has Beth made a significant change to the prison system? Hard to say. But programs such as this certainly give Sacramento something to think about. Has she made a significant change to one aspect of that system and, perhaps most importantly, to the lives of program participants and the systems they enter upon release? Yes, indeed.

Now that’s what I call a grassroots change.

If she can do that in a prison, perhaps there is hope for other organizations as well. I wonder…

When Time Slows Down

I was talking to someone recently and she made a comment about how her kids had such a different sense of time – that asking them to wait five minutes was really difficult, that the idea of something happening next week was a really long time, and that waiting for a future event that was a month or a year away was like an eternity.

We wondered: Is this because they have such a short time frame for reference? A year to a 9-year-old is 1/9th of her life. Or is it just because they are so in-the-present?

This conversation reminded me of the time after my husband died five years ago. The idea of living the rest of my life without him was too huge and too horrible to contemplate, so I focused on today. Right now. Putting one foot in front of the other. These 24 hours. One day at a time. I can do Now, I thought. And I did. I could think about tomorrow, but the coming weekend was a stretch. When my mother asked in the autumn if I was coming to Seattle for Christmas, I had to explain that I literally could not think that far in the future.

Did I become child-like for that period?

As I healed, I was conscious of times when I was able to schedule something for the weekend, plan a pot-luck a month in advance, think about a trip to Seattle for my newest nephew’s christening.

In his terrific essay, “What Startups Are Really Like,” Paul Graham (www.paulgraham.com) writes about what founders of startups reported that most surprised them about the process. In Surprise #2, “Startups Take Over Your Life,” one writes, “I think the thing that’s been most surprising to me is how one’s perspective on time shifts. Working on our startup, I remember time seeming to stretch out, so that a month was a huge interval.” Paul attributes this to the fast pace of life in a startup, “which makes it seem like time slows down.”

As we move faster, does time slow down? The theory of relativity tells us that the closer to the speed of light an object travels, the more time slows down for it so that an astronaut who returns to earth after a long trip at the speed of light will have aged more slowly than his twin brother who remained on Earth.

Does life seem fast-paced to children? Is that why time moves so slowly for them? Do we move more slowly as we age, so that it seems to pass more quickly?

Are entrepreneurs like children? Non-entrepreneurs might glibly say Yes, but I’m serious here. Is there a child-like quality that entrepreneurs share with children related to how they perceive life?

When people are faced with changes that they have to get used to, and there is newness, and the world shifts, how does this affect how they perceive time? Are they dropped back to a child-like state until they can grow into the change? Does consciously fostering a child-like sense of wonder make coping with change any easier?

These make for interesting considerations for those of us who are change agents – considerations about how those impacted by changes perceive time and about how they react. What do you think?

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Influence: The Power of the Process

Whether or not one supports the recent health insurance reform legislation, it does provide an opportunity to pause and consider the immensity, complexity, and necessity of the process.

The process of persuading, cajoling, negotiating, influencing, listening, and renegotiating to convince enough people to embrace a change. A change that starts as an idea, and then the possibility of a reality, and then a reality.

Only rarely does someone with an idea present it to unanimous acceptance – especially if the idea represents something new, a change, a departure from the status quo. This is true in all environments, whether politics, business, social services, academia, or even family life.

Especially in situations where individuals in a group embrace competing interests or espouse a broad spectrum of views, it is a challenge to bring people together behind an initiative.

How do you influence decision makers, champions and worker bees to support an idea or an initiative?

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