The status quo isn’t predetermined. It is just where we go back when the conflict of change ends. The status quo doesn’t exist without the conflict of change and doesn’t end until the change succeeds.
The etymology of phrases can be an arid occupation but it can also deliver up the odd insight. The Latin phrase ‘In statu quo res errant ante bellum’ was the source of our phrase ‘status quo’. It means ‘in the state in which things were before the war’ and was used through history as a way of restoring the pre-existing order of things in treaties following conflict.
There’s two points of significance there:
you need conflict to have a status quo
you go back until you go forward
These days we often use the phrase status quo loosely as if it is somehow a pre-derermined state. It isn’t. The status quo is defined by the attempted change. The conflict of change creates “the way things were before”. That way is simply an aggregation of all the previous changes.
There’s no point worrying about why the status quo in the systems we are seeking to change resists change or why there may be conflict. The status quo is just a status. It doesn’t have any ideas, a say or any actions. Those belong to the people in the system. Once a change in the system is started by some of those people, that conflict continues until there is no return by everyone to the status quo.
Embrace the conflict as part of the change process, use it to learn how the change needs to be improved and recognise that conflct will be there until the changes become the “way things are”. The desire of change agents to bring about a better system will ensure that.
Change agents deprive the status quo of its power and status.
Changing structure is just rearranging deck chairs. You don’t need a new system. You don’t need a new process. More rules won’t fix what your current rules can’t fix. You don’t need more expertise because most of the potential you have goes wasted now. More data will mean more confusion not less. You won’t become more effective by being more efficient.
There are no transactional fixes. If you could flick a switch to create transformational change, everyone would.
There is no proxy for the hard work of change.
To create transformational change in the system that is your organisation you are going to need new conversations and new capabilities. At the start these conversations and capabilities will be uncommon and uncomfortable. You will need change agents to start the conversations, sustain debate and action and help others build the capabilities.
Your unique path to change will emerge guided at first by the few and eventually by the many. Find your change agents. Invest in their development and back their action.
When you need change, back the people who bring it about. Anything else is just a distraction.
PS: if you still think you need new structures, processes, systems, rules, expertise and data to change you will need change agents to be able to make use of them in your organisation
Photo: Shannon Tipton (@stipton) votes to change the status quo at #EdutechAU.
As our organisations look to adapt to a connected world, learning will need to play a far more strategic role. Learning functions need to move from being order takers to change agents in the transformation of leadership, culture, work and organisational structures. After all, we won’t achieve our strategic goals if people don’t have the capabilities we need.
Changing the Learning Game
Change was at the forefront of the agenda of the EdutechAU workplace learning congress this week. There wasn’t a speaker or a panel that did not seek to address how organisations were using learning to manage change. These changes were hardly minor. For example, in the case studies alone we had examples of:
Medibank building capability for workplace culture and wellness issues in an activity based workplace through experiential & mobile learning
the Australian Electoral Commission rethinking its entire employee development cycle between elections with a goal of focusing more on the why and how than the what.
Coca Cola Amatil building the capability of its operations teams to learn for themselves and from each other without training
AT&T using the scale of MOOCs to retrain its global workforce into strategic capabilities and out of declining roles
using learning and the learning function to change culture at Northern Lights
In all the talks were the key drivers of transformation for businesses and that learning is seeking to better leverage. All our work is becoming:
more connected and social
more open and transparent
more knowledge based
more dependant on culture
more demanding in terms of speed, quality, efficiency, effectiveness, etc
These changes present an opportunity and a threat to learning function everywhere. Learning has opportunities to be more strategically valuable, reach more people than every and in far more engaging ways. Learning has the potential to do and control less but achieve far more by moving from design and delivery to facilitating learners to pull what they need. At the same time, the threat to learning is that both learners and management has far more available from social channels external to the organisation and the participatory culture available in those networks often more agile and even more engaging.
To leverage these challenges for opportunity, learning needs to move from an order taker for training programs to a strategic agent of change. The new challenge for learning is to rethink how they set about enabling the network of people in the organisation to build key capabilities, to help people build constructive culture and to change the way managers manage and leaders lead. The answer will be less about control and specific training programs and tools and more about how learning works in a system of capability building that reinforces the organisation’s goals and uses the best of what is available in learning, in the social capital of the organisation and its networks.
Becoming More Human
Speaker after speaker highlighted another key element of this transformation. As work becomes more personal and more human, there is also a need for learning to lead that change too. Learning functions need to consider how they design human experiences, faciltitate human networks and realise human potential, even anticipate human emotions. The future of work puts a greater demand on design mindsets, systemic approaches and the ability to weave together networks of experiences and people in support of capability building in the organisation.
This human approach extends also to how learning works. These kinds of programs need experimentation, learning from failure and adaptation over time as the people and the organisation changes. Learning will need to role model and shape leadership as a vehicle for realising the human potential of each individual, organisation and each network.
The Obstacles are The Work
EdutechAU was not an event where people walked away with only a technique to try on a new project. There were undoubtedly many such ideas and examples from social learning, to MOOCs, to experience design & gamification, to networked business models, to simulations and other tools. However, the speakers also challenged the audience to consider the whole learning system in and around their people. That presents immediate challenges of the capability of the learning team and their support to work in new ways. However, those very challenges are part of helping the system in their organisation to learn and adapt. The obstacles are the work.
Thanks to Harold Jarche, Alec Couros, Marigo Raftopoulos, David Price, Ryan Tracey, Shannon Tipton, Emma Deutrom, Joyce Seitzinger, Con Ongarezos, Peter Baines, Amy Rouse, Mark L Sheppard and Michelle Ockers for their contributions to a great event.
Embrace failure. Fail fast. Fail small and early. Everyone has failures. Few failures are fatal.
Despite all the good advice about failure, people find it very hard to sit comfortably with failure. When outcomes matter and achievements are celebrated failure is often a disappointment regardless of the amount of official imprimatur. Failure attracts a whole lot of personal and cultural baggage. This is a significant issue when willingness to risk failure is a large part of an organisations ability to adapt.
Reading The Pirate Organization by Durand and Vergne gave me a somewhat different perspective on failure. Noting that many pirate organisations were short-lived and easily defeated by the forces of the state, Durand and Vergne still noted that pirate organisations helped establish new norms for international trade and even the way organisations worked. Pirates showed where states were weak, where trade was broken and where traditional organisations needed to become more agile and adapt. Their thesis is these fragile and often failing pirate organisations are a critical part of the process by which sovereign states and capitalist organisations adjust to new territories of economic endeavour.
Failures Create Norms Too
Projects that end in failure can play a critical role in defining norms in an organisation in a similar way. They also set norms that shape future activity as well. Failure draws human attention and with that attention there is a chance to influence the way that people perceive culture – the how we work around here expectation. Critically culture is an expectation of how we will interact. It is shaped more by what you do about failure than what you say.
Failure has a big influence because the activity that follows failures sends signals that shape people’s perspective on a few key elements of organisational activity:
People worth supporting: How do you treat those whose projects fail. Give them the plum choice of the next project. Support them to learn what they need to learn to make their next efforts more successful. Whatever you do, don’t pretend the failure didn’t happen. They know it did. Hiding it loses the lessons and the uncertainty of silent treatment can be worse for people involved than blame.
Purposes worth achieving: The surest way to signal that a purpose is important, is shared and is worth achieving is that people persist after a failed attempt and start developing new ways to achieve the goal based on the lessons from the failure.
Problems needing fixes: Failures often highlight problems in supporting areas, systems or processes that need attention. This is how lessons are revealed by a chaos monkey. Whether or not people are prepared to learn and adapt to remedy these problems following failure is a major signal of the culture of an organisation. Do nothing and you can’t expect anyone else to care for those issues.
Ways worth working: Failures often take down more than just a specific objective or a specific project. Small specific failures in organisations can be used as a weapon to sabotage wider transformations, particularly ones that change the way an organisation works. We’ve all heard some version of the refrain of the cynics “How can they succeed in the whole organisation if they can’t get their first pilot to work?” Whether an organisation persists, adapts or abandons a new way of working following a related failure sends a critical signal.
Norms Come From Actions. Not Posters.
You are going to struggle to convince people that you love and desire failure. The achievement orientation in your organisation culture will work against you all the way. Hiring a few change agents will help show tolerance and foster some adaptation but it won’t necessarily make failure acceptable.
Take down the posters encouraging people to risk failure. Show them instead how you act after failures happen. That moment is when you get to signal what matters to your organisation in terms of purposes, people and processes.
The resilience of your organisation depends on the people willing to risk breaking things.
Chaos Monkey is an open source application created to test the resilience of web services. By intentionally creating failures in random ways, chaos monkey helps engineers discover where there are shortcomings in their systems.
Many organisations have business continuity tests to help them learn how to manage failures. These exercises can be valuable learning experiences when done well. However, many are also predictable, formal and artificial. (If your business continuity test isn’t allowed to fail you won’t learn anything) Further many of these tests don’t go far enough because they test the continuity of defined current systems and processes internally, not the resilience of these in a wider dynamic ecosystem.
Chaos at the Centre and the Edge
How do create a corporate chaos monkey that helps your organisation learn how to improve its resilience in a rapidly changing environment?
Creating a way for your people to run small scale tests of new ways of working, new processes, new products and services acts as a chaos monkey in your corporate environment. Lots of change and experimentation will expose your weaknesses and keeps you engaged with the dynamic environment around your organisation. This is the usually reason that wide scale experimentation is resisted in large organisations. However, experimentation lets you learn and build capability to fix issues when they are still small. Experimentation builds resilience.
In most complex systems, the traditional approach of defence from failure will fail anyway. Building the capability to learn and adapt to failure is far more valuable than a Maginot line of corporate defence. Experimentation will help supply the needed chaos at the centre and the edges of your organisation.
Once you accept that a little chaos is required you need your own monkeys to bring chaos. Find and embrace your Change Agents. In every organisation there is someone willing to risk breaking something to make the world better. Change Agents are the corporate chaos monkeys.
Every responsive organisation needs its Change Agents to bring just the right amount of chaos, adaptation and learning.
Many organisations want the benefits of better collaboration and the potential of better leveraging the potential of their people in a community. Increasingly with the availability of enterprise social networking, social mobile apps and integration into other productivity tools, organisations have the network capabilities to create the communities at hand.
A Network with a Demanding Boss
Too many plans for enterprise social networks and communities are developed without any community participation. The organisation wants something from the network. They set about getting that goal. When realising the goal proves harder than they expect, the organisation resorts to communication, performance levers, gamification, or maybe even ‘change management’. Many of these remain efforts to impose an external rationale on a network.
If the goals of a network are imposed externally, it is not a community. It is a network with a demanding boss. Any network of this type will lose energy over time as people query the benefits of their participation.
Use the Network to Create a Community
A community comes together around a common set of purposes. Use your network to discover, discuss and align those goals. Engage the people that you would like to form a valuable community to find out how they want to engage. My work shows that people have their own great reasons for adopting the practices that accelerate value at work and build communities. Those practices are those of the Value Maturity Model – Connect>Share>Solve>Innovate.
The organisation’s goals will become a part of that discussion naturally. Everyone works for the organisation and there will be some shared purpose. By engaging people you will discover the greater potential of the community and leverage its rich diversity of talent and perspective.
Ask leaders to lead
Much has been discussed about executive participation in enterprise social networking. Often it is seen as the panacea that will make people do the ‘right things’ in the network. Even the busy senior executives struggle to participate when it is imposed on them as an externally mandated task. Again, the effort is to impose an external logic for networking.
When you focus on the community, what is clear is that what is needed is leaders. We don’t need participation from senior executives, when need people who are willing to take on the role of leader in the community to help the community to achieve its purposes. Leadership should come from senior executives, but it can also come from other community leaders, influencers and champions.
Don’t focus solely on senior executives. Focus on finding leaders willing to help create a community and drive change. These people may well be your organisations mavericks and change agents. Embrace their ability to lead.
The Value Maturity Model is an approach to help organisations create strategic value in collaboration and social networking. The Value Maturity Model Canvas helps organisations to develop agile plans for communities using participation of community members. To learn more, get in touch with Simon Terry via about.me, twitter or Linkedin.
When we launched Change Agents Worldwide back in January 2013 we wanted to experiment with a new kind of organizational model. We wanted to create a commercial enterprise that was effectively, a network.
Very excited by the opportunities of helping realise the potential of the Change Agents Worldwide Network. If we are to learn how to manage the future of work, it begins with new forms of practice.
Every career choice is a hypothesis. Test yourself on your proposition and be prepared to pivot and adapt.
When I left my corporate role, my initial plans were a little vague. I knew I wanted better balance in my life. I knew I wanted to have a bigger impact on my personal purpose and I was prepared to make changes. I was deliberately taking time off to reflect but I wasn’t yet sure of whether I wanted another job or to start a business.
Because I had been involved in a startup, I had followed the development of Lean Startup thinking with keen interest. I also had ongoing conversations, with founders using the approach. As I pondered what to do with my career, I realised I had a chance to do the lean startup of me.
Expand Your Hypotheses
I had a few ideas of what I wanted to be involved in as I searched for new work and roles. These were my initial hypotheses. Some of these have proved to be valuable. Many were ruled out quickly because nobody else was interested in my offer or because the circumstances didn’t deliver the returns or impact on purpose that I wanted.
A simple example was that I initially thought I had an opportunity to work with startups or medium sized businesses. Firstly, these proved to be two completely different hypotheses with little overlap. In both cases, I found when there was money to pay mostly they didn’t want advice, they wanted outsourced management, access to my networks or some other proposition.
Also, I quickly discovered my initial hypotheses were too narrow and limited. People also started to offer me opportunities to do things that I had never considered before. Some of those opportunities, like the chance to join Change Agents Worldwide, to go to Do Lectures Australia, or the opportunity to work on development of a corporate university helped me expand my sense of what was possible.
Working through the hypotheses and pushing myself to consider the widest possible impact on purpose changed the work I do and the organisations that I chose to target dramatically. Along the journey I stopped looking for a job and became a consultant actively working in the future of work, customer experience and leadership (and starting up the business of me).
Relentlessly Test Hypotheses
You don’t know until you do. The only way to determine whether a proposition you have offers value is if someone is prepared to pay you enough and consistently enough to do it. There’s two points there:
You need to do stuff
People need to pay you consistently
When you are starting yourself up, there is a phase of networking and building profile. The danger is that networking and profile can be all consuming. Coffee and conferences can become your job. Growing networks can become your only return.
Get in and do things. Think like a startup and push yourself to do work every day. If you need to create a project to work on it, then do so. I found the best sales tool was when I was suddenly unavailable due to the volume of work. People started calling with work because I didn’t have time for coffee.
It surprised me how many people expected me to do work without being paid for it. I have done a few of those activities, not for the much offered ‘exposure’ but to prove to myself & others the value I can bring in an activity. However, once that is proved once it is time to make money or move on. Continued offers to work for free is a failed test of a hypothesis. Some times people will only pay when you’ve said no several times first.
Invest small and widely. There will be lots of temptations to put all your eggs in one basket, but remember each opportunity is a hypothesis to be tested. You don’t want to over invest in a proposition that won’t continue. I have turned down investment opportunities, jobs and partnership opportunities for this reason. I ended up deciding the best current scale for my business is me supported by amazing networks of the best talent from around the world, Change Agents Worldwide.
When someone asks me to go all in, I work with them to start with a small test instead. That way we both get to work out what is working and how much we want to invest together.
Remember time is the commodity that you have in greatest scarcity. Allocate your time to investments in your future with care. When people are wasting your time or don’t value it, allocate your time elsewhere.
The power of a platform, channels or a consistent community is the ability to run many tests at once. Startups use platforms to learn faster. You can do the same.
Your network is a platform. Strengthen it (remembering your network is not your job). Your thought leadership activities are another platform (remembering it rarely pays the bills). Work with people who have platforms to run better and faster tests on your propositions.
International Working Out Loud week was born out of some casual conversations and unmet needs. It was a fun experiment. As we work to develop the idea further, it offers a platform for additional experiments in the potential of working out loud as a proposition to help others.
Pivot or Persevere
Every day as you test your hypotheses you are going to adapt what you do. You will make small and large pivots. When things work you will persevere and work to scale them like mad.
Recognise also that somethings that work don’t scale. For example, I have put on hold plans to work with a range of startups in favour of working on a few businesses like Sidekicker where we share a view of what it will take to realise a big potential.
I don’t see my pivots as failures. They are just opportunities to wait for better timing, a better understanding of a client segment or a better proposition. I know I will do work with more organisations in healthcare or more medium sized businesses. It is just a matter of finding the right proposition. While I wait I work still, building capabilities that will help in that eventual proposition.
Be Uniquely You
When I started my work, I wanted to be like all the other successful people. Over time, I realised my unfair advantage was being me.
My skills and experiences are relatively unique at least in the markets that I am working in. That is a very good thing. Trying to make myself more like others dilutes my unique value.
Some people won’t like your uniqueness. You also won’t enjoy working for them. If being you is not good enough for some, that is a failed test and it is time to move on and find someone who wants you for you.
The Lean Startup of You
You don’t need to quit your job, start a business or to become an independent consultant to apply lean startup thinking to your career. Start asking yourself how you create the most value, how you can do more of that and experiment to make it possible. You might find it requires a change of job over time but a lot can be accomplished right where you are now.
The power of a lean startup mindset is accelerated learning. Make sure you are putting what you learn into new actions.
Want to create engagement? Make engagement in a common purpose the only thing holding your company together. Let people choose to stay. People who choose to engage are always more committed. Importantly, opening that choice will keep you accountable to creating a great team and place to work.
Zappos is famous for its offer to pay new hires to leave. The expressed logic is that anyone who will take a small amount of money to leave is not that committed. Psychology tells us the commitment to stay is potentially more valuable to Zappos than losing a few uncommitted people. All the staff that stay chose their jobs over money and psychology tells us that we make decisions to be consistent with our earlier decisions.
Discuss purpose openly in your recruiting. Highlight the difficulties, challenges and work involved. Discuss these things more than status, money or the likelihood of success. People who choose purpose over money or status will be more engaged. Would you rather have someone who joined for the mission or the money?
How do start-ups ever have high engagement when the work is hard, the pay is poor and success unlikely? They make the choice to work in these conditions explicit. People are engaged because they sign up for hardship to be part of the extraordinary. People participate for experiences and learning not available elsewhere.
The approach is not new. This advertisement is a mock-up and the story of Shackleton’s ad may be apocryphal. However, throughout history people have been choosing to commit to purposeful work over money and comfort.
Remove the barriers to your talented people leaving the organisation. They will value you more when they can’t see restraints.
Traditional organisations are full of all sorts of explicit to subtle restraints on employees. Non-competes, non-solicitation clauses, no-part time work, requirements other projects or other positions must be approved are just some of the explicit restrictions. The subtler forms are the design of bonus schemes, long term incentives, career paths, etc that reward those who respect the invisible handcuffs. Then there is the policy guidelines: discouragement of networking; media, speaking and communication policies; and guidelines on interactions with competitors or the community – requirements that employees remain isolated, invisible, anonymous and silent. I have even known organisations that celebrate their employees taking car leases or large mortgages because they believe that they will need to stay around for financial reasons.
Encourage people to network. Connect them with each other, your customers, your competitors and anyone who might be of help in the success of your business. Make sure they know everyone that they should know (It will help later in your succession planning). Your business will benefit as they know more. If networking alone will see them leave, then they will leave anyway in a modern networked economy.
Encourage people to share. Help your team to build reputations as leaders in your industry. They will thank you for the profile and the recognition of your contributions. They will bring back clients, amazing connections and insights from their engagements. If sharing their insights leads your team members to leave, then it is a signal that you are missing an opportunity to better use their talents.
Foster the career development of people. Make them the most attractive and best connected talent in the market. As another joke goes:
“If it is dangerous to invest in our people because they might leave, what is the danger if we don’t invest in them and they stay” Make them the heroes and heroines of your organisation. Like Zappos, you will lose a few but your will gain far more from those who remain and understand the value you place on their development and their success. Many more will be attracted to work for you.
Let people go and you will encourage them to return. The ultimate recognition of people’s autonomy is the recognition that they are always free to leave.
I am participating in an experiment of a pure engagement organisation at the moment with the Change Agents Worldwide network. As a network of independent agents, Change Agents Worldwide has no requirements of its members other than they commit to its purpose and they participate occasionally in the community.
Members come and go without restraint, based on their needs and their choices. There is no ability to require people to work or to do any particular thing. Everyone is independent and their choices are respected. People participate in activities because they chose to do so. The challenge for Change Agents Worldwide is to make activities attractive enough that people stay around and the work valuable enough that people collaborate to deliver it.
There is no exclusivity. When we are trying to learn more about the practices that foster the future of work, exclusivity would be counter-productive. All members do the same work under their own names or for the organisations where they work. Members participate and even lead other networks, communities and conversations on similar topics.
Still the members are the only way Change Agents Worldwide does anything. Any client consulting or other opportunities in Change Agents Worldwide are referred to members to realise together.
Because of the freedom, what the members of Change Agents Worldwide do best is that they gather in conversations, swarms and pods to work and learn together. The heart of a pure engagement organisation is collaboration for a purpose. When people choose to work together, they choose to be engaged.
Most importantly, always respect the choices and the commitment of those who work with you. The sad part of all the subtle restraints in the traditional organisation is that it leads to a mindset that “we can do what we want, they can’t go anywhere”. When you don’t respect and support the commitment of others you will surrender their support. It is little surprise that engagement is so low in organisations with all those restraints and a mechanistic view of employees.
By letting people go when their needs are not being met, you will be more accountable to create a great organisation, great team and great individual contributors. You will be forced to treat each person as an individual, to respect their goals and to focus on realising their potential. The future of work is human.
The old way industrial of creating value is well understood and commonly implemented. Develop a unique proposition with a discrete market. Create a simple linear process to deliver the proposition by turning inputs into outputs with value creation at each carefully delineated step. Maximise control at the choke points in the process to maximise returns. Manage efficiency and throughput of the process to minimise waste. Reduce risk. As easy as that sounds we have spent over 200 years perfecting the process and still have much to learn.
We know far less about creating value in the massively scaled digital networks that we face today. Mostly we know what doesn’t work. Failure is accelerating. A focus on efficiency will kill a company competing with disruptive competitors. Networks specialise in routing around control points. Parallel disaggregated processes disrupt the linear, particularly if relentlessly focused on key opportunities to create value. Transparency across the process and rapid exchange of information changes the organisation-customer-employers-supplier- community dynamic in radical ways.
Value creation in networks to date has defaulted to the nearest analogies of the industrial model. Build a platform with a unique global scale that you can control. Strip the value creating process back to customer acquisition and platform development. Control advertising revenues ( or less commonly enterprise sales) as the principal form of monetisation. Experiment and acquire relentlessly. Be transparent internally and leverage networked models of organisation internally, but behave like industrial peers to the external market, except for carefully structured communities of co-creation and innovation.
The latest clues in the Cluetrain Manifesto are a reminder that this model is not guaranteed. At the same time, the lessons of the last Dotcom bust documented in Seely-Brown and Duguid’s ‘The Social Life of Information’ are a reminder that we have not yet reached our disaggregated and disinter mediated ‘markets are conversations’ utopia.
What is clear is that we need new ways of working. We will build new practices using our new global networks and relationships to exchange what works and to discard what does not. The key to success will be effectiveness. Effective organisations will mobilise their potential, connections and capabilities to pursue the ever-changing network opportunities, to learn together with their customers and community to realise a meaningful purpose. Embracing the new network economy and networked ways of working is fundamental for any organisation seeking to make this shift. Any organisation that takes this leap is on the path to becoming a Responsive Organisation.
Value has never been created around a board table. That is where value and the resources to create value have historically been acquired or allocated, often poorly. Value has never been created by data alone. People transform the data into hypotheses, insight, decisions and actions. Value has always been created by that action in networks, even if those networks are the crippled relationships of hierarchy. Those are network of people, not data. The organisations that reap the potential will be led by Network Navigators who can help their organisations through the journey.
Harold Jarche reminds us ‘the work is learning and learning is the work’. We have entirely new systems and practices of organisations to develop, to test and to share. Like our efforts to date we will begin with fixes and variants to the systems we have. Over time we will make more new sense of the future of work. We will need to learn to trust and enable people to leverage their networks and experiment. Then we have the journey of change advocacy to spread the successful practices. The widespread use of enterprise social networks is just one such step and even it has not addressed the potential of adoption, let alone value.
The fun of value creation in networks has only just begun. Our job is to make that fun a very human and purposeful experience.