Simon Terry

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The Future of HR: A Journey of Transformation

HR Journey

 

Working Out Loud for Engineers

Working out loud has become a very popular change initiative in engineering organisations around the world. The practice of working out loud plays key roles to nudge the traditional perfectionistic expertise-oriented engineering culture in productive directions towards the agile, customer-centred, collaborative future of work.

Engineering is a rigorous discipline of expertise. It has to be. Mistakes and errors in a design can have dramatic, devastating and long term consequences for the business & its customers. For this reason, engineering expertise is highly valued. That expertise can focus down into very narrow domains of the design of engineering solutions. Solutions are heavily worked, pushed to perfection and at times gold-plated for safety. The demands and focus of this work can mean that attention shifts to the area of engineering expertise itself and less to the environments, systems and other contexts around the work.

As a result, engineering organisations can at times struggle with customer focus. Engineers understand the design far better than the customers. They know the materials, systems and technologies involved better than anyone else.

Engineers can also find collaboration difficult. If there is one expert on a particular solution in the organisation, why would there be any discussion around a design to that solution. Focus primarily on demanding engineering considerations, that expert may be less concerned about the input from sales, marketing or manufacturing into the consequences of design choices.

Working out loud is the practice of sharing work purposefully with relevant communities while the work is still in progress. Sharing ideas, drafts and other progress helps other to be more aware of your work, provide input to that work and to learn from the work that is going on around the organisation. Nudging a culture to be more open, more outcome oriented and more collaborative through the practice of working out loud can deliver significant benefits for individuals and the organisation.

Encouraging engineering teams to work out loud can contribute to nudging the culture in a number of constructive ways:

  • Do we really understand the problem? The business challenge may need engineers to deliver a solution but that doesn’t mean the problem is an engineering problem. Asking teams of engineers to work out loud as the define the problem to be solved can help them to gather inputs to better understand the outcomes needed, the constraints and other systemic issues through the input of the wider organisation or other stakeholders.
  • What ideas might we take into the design process? Many creative solutions are cross-disciplinary or even involve a complete reframing of the problem. Opening up the ideation can allow non-technical experts or experts from other areas to put forward ideas that might inspire a new direction of work. Innovative and effective solutions can be the result of new inspirations.
  • What other considerations matter? Narrating the process of the design and sharing the considerations that went into it opens up a discussion on other considerations that may be missed or might be relevant. Suggestions on things that the engineers might consider can come from anywhere in the organisations.  Some times it is those who know least who ask the best “emperor’s new clothes” questions.
  • Whose support do we need to put this design into practice? To the immense frustration of many engineers, their designs need the support of other stakeholders to be put into practice. Engaging those stakeholders throughout the process of the work through a constructive process of sharing work as it develops will help with the awareness and buy-in of stakeholders in the organisation.
  • How do we learn from implementation for our next work? Henry Petrovski’s To Forgive Design is a book that studies the lessons from major engineering failures. One of the key insights is that failure often happens when a new technology is pushed beyond limits that have not yet become obvious. The technology overcomes a previous limitation but its own limitations are not known yet. These kind of failures can be prevented if the engineers can stay close to the issues arising from the implementation of their work. For example, signs of stress or other unusual outcomes on an existing bridge may be a signal that a new longer bridge with that same design may have an undetected failure point.
  • How do we develop our own mastery? Teams that are rightly proud of their expertise should be seeking to develop a culture of ongoing improvement and gradual development of mastery. This learning culture requires people to seek feedback and coaching from others, to study the work of others and to be challenged by others to learn and work in new ways.

If your organisation can benefit from a more agile, customer-centred and collaborative work, then consider leveraging the practice of working out loud to help nudge those changes.

Tall Poppy Podcast with Tathra Street

I recently did a podcast with Tathra Street on making leadership safe for humans.  Tathra has an series of interviews on the idea of Human Centred Leadership. In our 30 minute conversation, we discussed my leadership lessons, how work is changing, the demands of digital culture, working out loud and more.

The discussion was great but sadly the audio quality did not hold up to the content of the discussion.

Work Ahead for 2017: Foundations, Personal & Organisational Work

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As the end of November approaches, that time has come again when we must consider whether we have the right initiatives in place for ourselves and our organisations as we get ready for 2017.  How are you transforming the capabilities and work practices in your organisation to make sure that your teams are more effective in their work?

Why is Work Changing?

The way we work is fundamentally changing under the influence of five main drivers:

  • Pervasive Global connection: As internet connectivity has gone mobile, we now have the ability to connect with, to converse with and to see the whole system of our stakeholders any time anywhere.
  • Automation: Digital technology has enabled us to automate simple tasks and string together increasingly complex processes and systems.
  • Data and Analytics: As digital connection and digital automation expands so does our ability to gather data and analyse that data to provide insight and run complex algorithmic processes.
  • Changing Consumer Expectations: As consumers are exposed to the potential of digital through consumer technology and consumer services, the businesses must meet disruptive and exacting standards for convenience, service, value and speed.
  • Accelerating Pace of Change: Disruption, greater responsiveness to change and ever-shortening cycles of feedback are the new norm for business and our work practices must adapt to enable our businesses to keep up.

We have already seen great change in digital transformation.

Further dramatic changes in the nature of work are here but ‘not yet widely distributed’ to borrow the phrase of William Gibson..

2017 Future of Work Recommendations

With these pressures on the way we work, every business should have a focus on how it is changing the way its people work and the practices that will support ongoing transformation of work. Here are my recommendations on what work you should have on your backlog for the new year:

Foundations:

These five are in place in your organisation today. However, they may not be well understood, managed or serving your purpose.  As you look to 2017 it is always worthwhile to ensure that the foundations are sound and well aligned.

2017-foundations

Purpose: Be clear on your personal purpose. Look for that purpose in the work you do. Clarify the shared purpose in your organisation. Don’t impose a purpose designed around the leadership table. Discover the purpose through the stories and the work that bring your organisation together.

Strategic Value: What value are you trying to create to fulfil your purpose? What kinds of value matter most to your stakeholders? When do they know you are creating value? What measures tell you that you are achieving your goals?

Networks: To compete in the network era, your organisation must be networked. How are you bringing people together to connect, to share, to solve problems and to respond to the networks around your organisation? The technology matters less than the connection, the behaviours and the shared purpose. Are you clear on the strategic value of your communities, are they well supported with sponsorship, investment and community management so as to accelerate their value creation?

Culture: Move beyond words on a poster. Move beyond generic platitudes. Move beyond an agglomeration of individual team cultures. What specific values are shared across your organisation? Why do these help fulfil your purpose? How do those values translate to expectations about behaviours in and across your teams? Is the culture in your organisation effective for your purpose and the value you are seeking to create? How do you personal role model the behaviours you expect from others?

Employee Experience: Are you working somewhere that values the employee experience and is adapting it to changing work and changing roles in the organisation? How have you aligned your employee experience to your desired customer experience? Does your workplace create rich value for employees and enable them to express their potential in fulfilment of purpose? Does your employee experience work as well for the one-hour temporary contract worker as the long term employee? Does it work equally well for all levels of the hierarchy and all corners of your network?

Personal Effectiveness:  Four Key Future of Work Practices

These four personal practices are enablers of the future of work. They enable an individual employee to deliver greater value in their work by responding to the opportunities and information in their environment. Agile and adaptive they empower employees to continuously improve and innovate.

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Working Out Loud: Sharing work in progress in a purposeful way with relevant communities will accelerate learning, sharing and feedback cycles. Start working out loud now.

Personal Knowledge Management: Learn how to turn the personal information flood into effective sense making, learning and sharing. A critical skill to make sense of complexity and to leverage networks for learning.

Adaptive Leadership: Enabling the rebel and the change agent to lead more effectively in any system. Improving understanding, influence and the increasing the breadth of leadership techniques to create collective change in any system.

Experimentation: Move beyond the limits of your expertise. Learn by doing. Resolve uncertainty through action. Shorten cycles of decision making and feedback to increase personal effectiveness.

Organisational Effectiveness: Scaling & Accelerating Change

Organisations are made up individuals. These four practices of organisational effectiveness scale and accelerate the personal practices through a focus on design of systems for connection, learning and adaptation.

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Open Collaborative Management: Middle managers are often those who find a change to digital ways of working most threatening and disrupting. Open up the work of management. Move management from planning, allocation and control to facilitation, alignment and coaching. Shorten cycles and improve the performance value of feedback. Foster the role of managers as network navigators and brokers. Management can be a critical point of leverage in achieving more open, more collaborative and more effective work.

Scalable Capability Development: Turn each employee’s learning into a contribution to scalable system for delivering strategic value. Create Big Learning systems that scale learning around strategic capabilities for the organisation’s success. Coordinate your learning agenda as an agile change program. Curate the capability building of your teams, leveraging learning from peer communities and leverage social learning to bring 70:20:10 and a performance-oriented approach to learning to life at scale and in the workplace.

Effective Networked Organisations: Take advantage of the networks in and around your organisation to rethink your business model and organisational design choices. Break the centralised/decentralised binary and move beyond hierarchy. Enable autonomy, foster alignment and improve effectiveness for purpose. Skill your teams to achieve effectiveness in the wirearchy. You don’t need to purchase a new management system. You need to adapt your approach to managing knowledge, trust, credibility and results to your purpose, culture and community.

Agile Innovation & Change: Adapt to the changing needs of the environment and stakeholders to deliver new value. Accelerate innovation and change through new approaches and by putting in place the systemic support for employee-led innovation, change and transformation to a more responsive organisation.

Simon Terry provides consulting, advice, speaking and thought leadership to global clients through his own consulting practice, and as a Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide, a network of progressive and passionate professionals, specializing in Future of Work technologies and practices.  The focus of Simon’s practice is assisting organizations to transform innovation, collaboration, learning and leadership. 

Changing Work is Hard

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Some time ago I published a post on five small changes that we can each make to make work more effective. Tanmay Vora turned the post into the great sketch above that has been widely shared. On the weekend I wondered whether all this sharing actually helped anyone to change their work. Tanmay and others responded that they were using the sketch as a guide to their work. However, my question remains open. Do we have as much change as we should? Do we act on the small ways to improve work?

Changing Work is Hard

Changing work is hard.  We would all like work to be more effective, but we continue to cling to ineffective practices. We know there are better ways but we don’t always use them. Why is there a gap between our future of work intent and action.

Let’s look at some of the reasons why changing work is difficult.

Reactive not Reflective: We are busy.  Being busy often deprives us of the time to reflect on how best to do our work or how we could improve our work.  While time pressures should present an incentive to plan a better way, we often think it is better to just start.  Take the time each day, if only for 5 minutes to reflect on how your work could be improved.

Habit: There is comfort in habit. Habits provide patterns of certainty in an incredibly volatile and uncertain world. Habits can be behaviours or habitual mindsets. Together they create ingrained and unthinking behaviours. Sending an email or organising a meeting is a routine next step and others will share the habit making it harder to break.  Find triggers for new habits. Make a choice to think and go another way and lead people away from bad habits.

Social Capital: Dave loves his meeting. Dave has perfected his meeting to suit his needs and his project. How do I tell him that it is a complete waste of everyone else’s time? We aren’t always great at feedback and we hate to put our accumulated social capital in jeopardy, particularly if what we are asking is out of the usual. Explore better ways of working with your work colleagues through collaborative coaching conversations. Encourage them to reflect and to help you find better ways of working too.

Fear: Our workplaces are full of fear. Fear power, fear of ostracism, fear of loss of status or wealth or purpose. Our workplaces put the full neurological gamut of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness under threat. Adding change to the mix risks upping the fear quotient. We need to make the benefits of change clear to ourselves first and then to others. We need to use these elements of our uncertainty to help us, not hinder us.

Conscious Incompetence: New skills are hard. They don’t work as well as our habits. We may have been unconsciously incompetent at our old approach, but as soon as we try something new we are conscious of the gap in our skills. Practice and experience is the only way to improve our skills. We need to do the work and get better.

Initiative: Nothing changes unless someone acts to influence change. We can wait for our boss or others to discover the change themselves.  However, to bring about change sooner we need to exercise individual leadership and take on the challenge of making change happen. We must be our own role models. We need to find our voice and lead with our actions to change the way we work.

 

Simon Terry provides consulting, advice, speaking and thought leadership to global clients through his own consulting practice, and as a Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide, a network of progressive and passionate professionals, specializing in Future of Work technologies and practices.  The focus of Simon’s practice is assisting organizations to transform innovation, collaboration, learning and leadership. 

#ChangeChat with Dr Jen Frahm for #WOLWeek

I recently participated in a ChangeChat with Dr Jen Fram of Conversations of Change and a fellow member of Change Agents Worldwide for WOLWeek were we discussed our experiences of working out loud and how it can contribute to change.

Getting Past The Obvious

One of the commonest forms of corporate sabotage of change is to raise a difficult issue as an obvious objection. The challenge is not raising them but working to resolve them through conversation. Don’t accept the obvious.

Present a new idea or try to make a change in a large organisation and at some point you will encounter the following behaviour. Somebody will to raise a complex and difficult issue as an obvious barrier to the success of your project. They will frame their naysaying in the name of straight talk, speaking on behalf of others, being a devil’s advocate or even helpfully raising an issue that others may be too supportive or politically correct to discuss.

These conversations appear everywhere:

  • “We need to make changes to adapt to digital” “But, let’s look at these digital competitors. They are tiny and none of them are making money. Why should we copy them? We will have to give up a lot of margin if we do.”
  • “We are planning to be more diverse in our hiring” “But, and I hate to say this, if we are honest we haven’t found the talent available for the roles we have and I’m not even sure they are interested.”
  • “We want the organisation to be more collaborative” “But, we need to be realists and recognise we have demanding targets, a headcount reduction and if we asked them our people would tell you they are already busy”
  • “We want to be more innovative” “But, isn’t innovation just the latest consulting buzzword? Our customers don’t want costly innovation. They want a lower price”

The objection is carefully designed to appeal to an ‘obvious’ point and to make the speaker appear intelligent for having considered a wider range of issues than you have presented. Many of these issues are valid challenges that your project needs to address.  Many are also overblown or illusions. The challenge is that the speaker expects the ‘obvious’ to be a definitive answer. Even if you can create a conversation about ways to move forward past this issue, the speaker won’t be contributing to the solution.

Getting Past the Obvious

Here are some suggestions to avoid this issue

Anticipate the Obvious: If it is going to be raised anyway, it is better that you raise the issue yourself. Challenge yourself and your team to engage stakeholders early and flush out the obvious and not so obvious objections that might be in your path. Understanding the likely objections and potential responses is an important part of handling this challenge.  Preparation will also give you the best chance to dispute a throway remark in the moment with facts and evidence.

Hold the Tension: The person raising the obvious issue expects the conversation and your project to end. Resolving difficult issues requires hard conversations. Plan for this hard conversation and allow yourself the time to keep your stakeholders in this hard conversation until progress is made. Create an environment where this challenging issue can be discussed and progress or new perspectives might be found.

Bring the System into the Room: The challenge comes from bringing a selective part of the system around your project into the room. You need to consider how you can involve a broader view of the project and its stakeholders. Can you bring out broader benefits that make persisting worthwhile? Can you bring other voices into the conversation to offset the obvious?

Reframe the Obvious: The obvious remark may also hold a clue as to the path to its solution. Look at the examples above. If margin is the issue, then what if profit is lost to unmet disruption. If a stock of talent is the issue, how do we redefine, find or create a flow of talent. If workload is the issue, how can collaboration help. If price is the issue, how can innovation drive value.

Ask to Do the Work: A lot of obvious issues turn out to be no issue at all in practice. They are built on untested assumptions, rumours and guesswork. Ask to do the work. Ask for a richer conversation with a wider group of stakeholders. Ask to put the issue to the test by doing an experiment, a pilot or gathering real data. Too many obvious barriers are only barriers around conference tables.

Don’t accept the obvious issue as a barrier to the progress of your project. Your stakeholder may not even care. They might just want to appear clever in the meeting. Do the preparation and the work and you will carry your project far beyond the obvious issues. The real challenges are the issues nobody anticipates.