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Our world offers many opportunities for a great rant. The magic of the internet and social media is that your rant can find its audience no matter what your topic or preferences. Look around great rants are everywhere. Sadly, rants don’t create change. Only working together with others matter.
Ranting can be extremely satisfying. There is an emotional reward in getting something off your chest. Ranting is working out loud on steroids. The key difference is there is much less rigour about choosing a relevant audience. Rants find their audience. Even if they disagree, people appreciate the emotion and eloquence of a well phrased rant.
Unfortunately, a rant is an exercise in extremism. A good rant highlights divisions and differences. It portrays a stark difference between the engaged voice of reason and the Other. Rants foster engagement at the edges. They don’t build the engagement of a civil society. They don’t drive change.
Rants don’t lead to change because they release tension. Our reaction to a rant if we agree is ‘Yes. Glad Somebody said it.’ Rich with emotional satiation we don’t feel the tension to act. The reaction to a rant of we disagree is a heightening of tensions, increasing alienation and loss of shared ground.
Ranting is fine as an emotional outlet. Just don’t expect it to create change. Swap your rant for a conversation and find a way to work with others instead.
If there’s one mistake I have made more than any other in my career, it is setting out on a project with a goal to change people. I can assure you that if you read through this blog you will find all sorts of language about how to get people to change, how to drive change and how to force change. Bad habits die hard.
Force is an ever present temptation for managers, leaders and change agents in the world of work. We have a desire to specify exactly how things should work. We feel our position is rational and justified. Why can’t others just do what we need?
Robots might but humans have their own calculations. They consider what we need in light of all the circumstances and their needs. You can’t change someone. They can only change themselves. We need to shift the agency of change from those advocating change to those who must do the work, because that is the only place change can happen.
Understanding this difference, turns challenges of the change into opportunities.
- Do you really need senior leadership support? Are you just trying to get more power to for e change? Fighting for this support can be a bottleneck in organisational change. If they won’t change are they really that relevant to the work?
- What are people trying to say when they resist change? Resistance is at least a form of engagement. It’s better than ignoring change entirely. What insights might improve your change if you understood the drivers of resistance?
- What capabilities and systems might people need to change effectively ? A proper assessment of capabilities, systems and performance impacts of change is essential to make it easier for people to choose to change. Too much capability building is just an elegant form of communication, not actual enablement.
- What might you learn if you share the purposes of the change and engage others? I’ve seen many changes taken well beyond the dreams of leaders when an engaged team takes responsibility for managing the change itself.
- How might you need to change to help others? The most surprising learnings from a change program can be that you are the one who has to change.
In any change process there will be people who don’t want to come along. Some you will have to work around. Others will prefer to leave because they can’t or won’t change. These are far better choices than the false compliance of someone who has been forced to change. In a world of work that demand commitment, compliance is deadly.
Humans are participants in change, not widgets in a process. Allow others to shape the change they need. Help them to make it better. You may even end up being the one who changes most.
The problem with extremism is not the division it creates. There is always division in society. Vibrant civil societies are full of conflict and struggle. The great threat of extremism is that it can foster a growing detachment.
The problem of extreme positions and actions is that they foster detachment in those in the middle. Forced to choose sides people prefer to choose none. The intensity of the fight between extremes creates a ‘no mans land’ in which those forced to choose sides choose none. The lack of certainty caused by ardent opposition disconcerts those who fall in the middle. Unsure of their ground and unwilling to join the fight, the middle detaches and leaves the fight to the extremists.
A civil society requires the participation of everyone. We need all knowledge to combat fake news. We need all voices to be able to hear what’s best for society. We need diversity to be able to leverage the capabilities and talents of all. We need new and different ideas from those shouted by the packs of loyalists. We need all hands to make our society better together.
When we become detached, we leave the floor to the extremists. Amidst their number are the ideologues, the totalitarians and the tyrants. Each of these is happy to trade reality and society for greater power. By ceding the floor when the fight gets extreme, we open the door to the ideologues and the totalitarians who would like to proscribe what thought and what action is acceptable. No civil society can survive the pretence and the cancer of social relationships that follows.
The remedy to detachment is engagement. Engagement is at the heart of the future of civil society. We must remind each other of the purpose and value of sharing a civil society. We must find our causes, our relationships, our voice and our actions. We needn’t unite in one cause. We can pursue the cacophony that reflects a vibrant civil society. Far better to deal with complexity, compromise and confusion than to face the quiet certainty of absolutism detached from society. Detachment is the problem, not an answer.
How to Create a Centre of Ignorance
Take any expertise.
Announce it is a Centre of Excellence.
Withdraw it from its business context.
Manage it independently.
Hire externally based on qualifications in the expertise.
Create geographic, cultural and mindset distance between the expertise and business activity.
Set targets for the expertise unrelated to business goals.
Force expertise practitioners to engage with the business practitioners through intermediaries.
Restrict feedback on the performance of the expertise.
Restrict information flow about the performance of the business to the expertise practitioners.
Constrain the availability of the expertise to meet declining cost budgets.
Focus expertise resources on standardising the expertise into fixed methodology.
Treat anyone from outside the expertise as a barbarian.
Periodically upgrade the methodology to reflect new trends in the expertise.
Apply for awards from specialist associations of practitioners of the expertise.
Commence a communication program to the business on the value of the expertise.
You have created a Centre of Ignorance.
All you need to do now is buy an Ivory Tower.
Our traditional default in the workplace has been to rely on relationships of power. The future of work and the adoption of new work practices demand a focus on influence and engagement
This week I was discussing technology adoption with a potential client and I was struck by a question that I was asked: ‘How do I make people share in your model?’
My answer disappointed them a little. ‘ You can’t make anyone share. All you can do is influence the way they choose to work.’
Default to Power
Traditional organisations like process, policy and predictability. Control and power reinforce the desire to standardise, to deliver efficiency and to manage performance in granular ways.
This focus on power means that models, guides to action and practices are often quickly turned into mandatory behaviours. ‘We could do this’ becomes ‘We should do this’. Mandating change seems like a shortcut to success in adoption. Sadly it doesn’t work.
In the work I have done on future of work practices, I first saw this in Working Out Loud when organisations began to see the benefits. People immediately began to discuss how to mandate working out loud, how to require it in training programs and how to deal with those who still refused to work out loud. The simple answer is do nothing. Working out loud is an individual choice. That choice can be supported by an environment and a culture of psychological safety, great leadership, effective communications and the actions of peers, but there always remains a personal choice of what and where to share.
The other way I have seen this default to power is when ‘What to use When’ guides become mandatory in organisations. Even the concept of the inner and out loop or my Value Maturity Model of collaboration can bee seen as recommendations of mandatory approaches to work. In both cases, the right answer for an individual may be different. As noted in the discussion of Inner Loop and Outer Loop collaboration above you can use a tool designed for one to deliver the other kind of interaction, if that is what is best for you, your team and your work goals. Chats, Conversations and Collaborations are human behaviour not outcomes of a technology system.
Mandating future of work practices is wasted effort. The work of adoption is not the work of writing policy. The work of adoption is engaging users in understanding value creation and influencing their behaviour.
The Art of Influence
Changing the way people has to be about influence. Individuals are unique in their capabilities, their challenges, the context and their goals. If you have more than one person in your organisation you should have multiple ways of working. The goal of an adoption process is not a uniform standard. Uniform standards of work are for machines, not diverse, capable and creative humans. 100% adoption is not the right answer, no matter how good it looks on a chart.
The goal of advocating future of work practices is to maximise the individual and collective value of work. That is why the Value Maturity Model focuses on aligning the individual and collective goals from work, before it dives into who and how people will work together to achieve that value.
We have spent centuries reinforcing an efficiency culture in our employees. Asking them to work for no value will fail because employees will do the right thing and refuse. Asking them to work just for the value of others will fail, because business performance processes have taught people that self-interest matters, except for the altruists in any population.
Power leaves no room for an individual contribution to the work or the benefits of work. When everyone works the same way because one person decided it is best, the value of individual contributions to work practices are lost. The greatest value of future of work tools is leveraging the context, insights and creativity of every employee. To do that effectively we must allow them to change their work and influence others to change their work too.
Adoption is the art of influencing better ways of working. Give your employees the tools to lead this change themselves.
We all have a moment of entanglement. We are beavering away at our work, pouring all our efforts into a task that we believe of the greatest importance. We are stressed and feel overwhelmed by what we have to do. Customers, colleagues and bosses are placing their demands and we are racing to keep up with our work.
We are entangled in the doing of our work. So deeply entangled in work’s own logic that we have lost an important thing – perspective. We lose the degrees of freedom of action that come from perspective.
Then one way or other the hard question comes. The question could be asked by a boss, a customer, a friend, a colleague or family. The question that is some variant of perspective. A question that can take many forms:
‘Why are you doing that? Why is that the best way? Why is that the best use of your talents now? How will that achieve your goals? How does that fulfil your purpose? How is that consistent with your values?”
With just that question it is clear to us that this work is not worth our time, is misguided or even counterproductive. The question has cut through the tangles and freed us to see a better way to work. The question restores our freedom of action.
Entanglement comes in many forms. We are entangled by culture and the way things are done around here. We are entangled by unspoken expectations. We are entangled by our history and the assumptions we bring to our work. We are entangled by senses of duty and obligation to our colleagues, our customers, our family, our friends and ourselves. In all these tangling webs of ties, we can easily lose sense of which way is up, what is right and what is best.
Don’t wait for a challenge, a failure, a post mortem or a Royal Commission to help you get perspective on your work and your plan of attack. Challenge yourself. Ask the hard questions every day. Push back on work that fails the test. You will be far more productive and more satisfied with your work.