In July this year we moved from the New Zealand hub of Auckland to Marlborough in the South Island. Granted, we didn’t live in the city itself and had a few acres to ourselves, but this was a move to a different lifestyle entirely. Three weeks ago we finally moved in to our own place and this blog reflects on the last few months in the context of change.
Different doesn’t need to be bad
When we moved out of our old house we left behind a large spread with a great swimming pool, orchards, loads of rooms, space to spread out to have fun together or find a bit of personal peace. We hadn’t found a new place of our own so we were lucky enough to rent a few rooms in a homestay. Two small bedrooms, a tiny kitchen and a living room/dining area became home for four months. All our gear was in storage so we had very little around us that we were used to. Many people said to us ‘I couldn’t cope with that’ and I could see why. Such a dramatic shift in life is often a recipe for disaster.
But we turned a negative into a positive. It became an adventure and an opportunity to see what life could be like in our new setting. We relied less on our toys and more on us. And in that I saw the essence of many successful organisational turnarounds. Dwelling on what’s wrong is a common issue in major change initiatives. People often only see the negative, the loss, the downside. The spirit of adventure is lost and the opportunity to pull together with colleagues and see ‘what can be’ is missed.
Some things aren’t optional
In changing our life we really changed our life. We’ve taken on 9 hectares including a producing vineyard and whilst that sounds romantic and conjures up images of quaffing our own wine on warm summer evenings there is a lot of hard grunt involved in growing grapes that you don’t see when you are looking for the latest deal in the supermarket.
Within three days of moving in we learnt that frost happens between 1am and 5am in the morning. That may sound obvious but on chilly nights, while you are tucked up in your bed under a nice warm duvet, we are in the vineyard turning on our Amarillo Frost Fan (a propellor on a 10m pole driven by a diesel engine). Once that is done, we walk around taking temperature readings and if certain zones get too low we light frost pots (a tub with a 1m chimney on it containing 20 litres of diesel that we light with a blowtorch). History said that we wouldn’t need to light these often. History said we wouldn’t get two nights of frost in a row. Well, night one we lit all 12 frost pots. The next night we lit them all again.
After three weeks in our new home, we have slept in the UTE (utility vehicle) out in the vines while monitoring all this 5 times. You can talk about what you want to change. You can talk about what will change. But until it is changed you’ve got to do what needs to be done. No point grumbling, you’ve just got to do it. How many changes have you seen where that’s the case? Whole systems that need updating. Processes just not in place. People having to do the basics because there is no fancy software/hardware available, etc. In change you’ve got to know what you are signing the organisation up for and they’ve got to know too. It can become the stuff of company legend (remember those years when..) if you lead change well. If you don’t, the discontent can become debilitating and the organisation won’t perform.
Old dogs can learn new tricks
Frost fans, frost pots and tractors have now become part of our lives. How to couple and decouple various implements to the tractor has been ‘interesting’ learning. So has learning to drive up rows of vines pulling a mower bed, then turn and do the next one, without hitting vines/posts/fences with the 2 metre chunk of metal you have behind you. Colleagues in Auckland think it is exciting/daunting owning a tractor. People in Marlborough think it is normal.
I’ve seen many changes where people decide for themselves that they are ‘too long in the tooth’ to learn new things. They decide that technology is ‘just too hard’, that new equipment is too difficult to get their head around. They then expect the organisation to keep their job just the way it has always been so that they don’t need to bother about such things. It’s a tractor, it’s normal in Marlborough, so it will become normal for us too. It is just another thing to learn. I’ve been learning all my life so I can keep learning now. It’s all about mindset and that is the same with organisational change. Anyone can learn if they put their mind to it. Sure we can’t all become rocket scientists, but tapping a few keys on a keyboard isn’t rocket science. It’s just a new way of applying existing experience. Next time you have someone who says that they are too old to change, just say ‘let me tell you a story about tractors and frost pots’.
Understand your business.
Do we want to spend all day driving tractors? No we don’t. We’ve already found a great guy who is much better at it than us. Do we know what it involves? Yes we do now. Could we pull our weight if we needed to? Yes we could. Can we have a sensible discussion with the guy who does it? More than we could if we had stayed inside our house and just delegated.
Want to restructure the organisation? Can you do that from your ivory tower? Can you engage in dialogue with the people whose roles you are changing if you truly don’t understand what their life is like? Ever tried negotiations on a topic you have no feel for?
These days really good CEOs know that they need to get out amongst their teams and see what their life is like. Really really good ones spend a day in others’ shoes. They don’t have organised tours around the workplace being shown around by middle management, they get out there, wear the gear, do the work, ask the questions, understand the stresses and the challenges. It doesn’t take much, just a day or so every quarter. Not a PR exercise. Not an engagement tool. Do the job. Meet the people on their terms, in their place. Then think about what the change really is.
Is it all worth it?
Some changes are really hard and I’ve seen people going through massive organisational change and experiencing huge stress. Those that get through it well know what was in it for them: experience, learning, new skills, shared stories, camaraderie are often cited when I ask people what they got out of organisational change on a personal level.
Every day I look at my new world and find something to take joy in. At 3am the sky is beautiful and the helicopters (up-market frost fans) hovering over our neighbours at Brancott Estate (up-market frost fans) are like a scene from a movie.
Want to enjoy the sunrise? Then stay up all night. I can walk my piece of the world and see it growing and know that I’m helping it to do that. And yes, in 18 months time all this hard work will be in a bottle of Fromm Brancott Valley that hopefully some of you will enjoy.
I’ve been involved in change all of my life and I’ve learnt that unless you roll your sleeves up and do what needs to be done, enjoy each success as it happens, reflect on each challenge and how it was met, engage in the positive, the adventure and the opportunity to learn, then the change becomes a chore, a bind, a joyless task to be done for salary alone and that doesn’t nourish anyone’s soul even if it does put wine on the table.
Anyone who is familiar with John Kotters’ definition of leadership will know leaders make changes – whereas managers maintain stability. The struggle to do both is the daily balancing act of any senior executive.
But, the bigger challenge is the defining of change in the first place.
Many leaders are employed primarily to make change happen. Words like ‘improve’, ‘efficiencies’, ‘growth’ and ‘competitiveness’ litter the job descriptions of C-suite roles. Many are tested for their vision and those known to have this skill are often paid more on the REM circuit.
They’re expected to march in, ‘rally the troops’, point them towards the ‘brave new world’ and take them there. Moses, Caeser and Alexander the Great all rolled in to one.
Yet we all know that change fails when the employees:
Don’t embrace the vision
Don’t share the direction
Don’t ‘buy-in’ to our new plans.
We talk about change resistance, how to engage with the vision, generate buy-in and teach leaders to go out there and do it. And when we say, “go out there and do it,” what we really mean is, “do it to them,” with “them” meaning ‘the staff’.
Persuade, convince, cajole and ultimately ‘help people off the bus’ if they don’t want to be on it. Everyone knows what’s coming, so if you want security you’d better look like this is the bus for you. After all, we’ve also learned that if you hang around long enough, the bus will change.
C-suites come and go – and the next one will want a blue bus anyway (as opposed to the green one we are jumping on now).
We employ for a vision, reward for a vision and then push that vision out there…and that’s the skill of leadership.
But is it really?
Imagine a leader who had no vision for the business. Would you employ them? No.
So, what about a leader who had no personal vision for the business, but believed the people in it did. Would you employ them? “Maybe,” I’m sure you would say. But something is still missing.
What about the leader who believed the organisation could be smarter, faster, more creative and agile – and that the people within in knew how to unlock such potential if he worked with them?
A leader whose tools were not visioning, but engagement?
A leader who stayed open to approaches that were not his – and whose only vision was one which everyone shared in?
A leader who listened not in judgement, but in interest?
The hardest change of all is where we let go of the certainty of our own vision and instead, engage with others to create a vision that is more sophisticated…because it is owned by many.
I recently moved house, from the north island of Nz to the South. As you can imagine shifting everything you have, your cars and your dogs in this way is a little bit different from moving to another street in a big town. Everything changes, friends are a bit more distant, routines have to be redesigned and a whole way of life recreated. In the middle of all this I tweeted that I was in the midst of a big change in life but I couldn’t be a change agent if I couldn’t cope with it. A peer and colleague answered my tweet to say that they thought change agents did what they did because they didn’t like change and preferred to control it.
She got me thinking, whether said in humour or not. What if she was right and out there all the change agents in operation are change resistant coupled with a high need for control? So I thought I would ask as well as write this week and you can tell me about you and if I get enough responses you will get a blog back about the data.
But back to her view on change agents. My perspective has always been that to be able to lead change that impacts on others you should have been through change yourself, both poorly and well managed. That experience can be used to understand how people feel in the situation where their future is not in their control and what a good or bad boss can do to about that. An example I always give is that you can’t truly know how to make someone redundant unless you’ve been through it yourself. You can do some training, understand in theory, but your perspective is always intellectual. I think that’s why peers often give such poor advice during change (just as the happily single give to a divorcing friend) it’s all based on a ‘you will get over it’ mindset. Which is true but not that helpful on the day. So a change agent that hadn’t coped in adversity or dealt with being powerless?
And what about the aspect of needing to control? Now I do know that some people have a vision of the world and move heaven on earth to change it to that. But the successful tend to be those whose vision of the world has some leeway, An ability for others to engage in it, enrichen it and join in the co-creation. Successful change has always seemed like an epidemic that you can’t help catching rather than a cattle drive (albeit a well meaning one that will hopefully take us to a land of milk and honey that they will thank them for in the end).
As a change agent I’m open to another perspective though (or is that not a pre-requisite?) so tell me Changed or Changer? What does it take to be a change agent when it comes to control.
This Poll is just for fun so please don’t write to me and tell me I’m asking the wrong question the wrong way (If you do I will mark you down as a need to control anyway)
When I tweet on Twitter and comment on Linkedin I tend to share what I’m seeing in the world of change and leadership. Sometimes it’s happening in a client space or a training space and sometimes a coaching space.
I recently commented on linkedin “don’t ignore those who helped you get where you are“. It was a simple thought as far as I was concerned, nothing really earth shattering. In no time at all it had 138 likes and 16 comments. This might not be an incredible number if you are Justin Bieber but for someone whose space is the targeted worlds of change and leadership and whose audience doesn’t tend to shout ‘Yay’ at everything you say, it was quite a surprise.
What was even nicer and more interesting was that people began to use it to thank those that had helped them on their journey, and those people obviously felt humbled by the thanks. It was nice to see and it was also nice to have initiated something positive for a few people, even though Justin Bieber saying it would have had half the planet thanking each other and not just a few.
And yes there were people who jumped on to advertise things like central heating (which I guess warms your heart in other ways) and spurious websites, but that too is just part of the world we live in. I’m sure they were thankful too.
It all came from a conversation with a group of managers whose direct reports were about to go through a development programme with myself and a colleague. I’ve noticed that if the manager is committed to the outcomes of these programmes then the direct reports seem to get more out of them and not just because committed managers don’t demand you come to a meeting on the day of your course. To help the managers engage we asked them to think about people in their past who had helped them get where they were today, and from their to think about what they could do to have a similarly big impact on their direct reports during the programme. It stirred up some great thoughts for some, so I passed the idea on via LinkedIn and Twitter.
The response struck a chord with even more people so it seems to me that when most of us think of people that have helped us we feel good and lift our game, as no doubt they do when we thank them for their help. The hashtag I gave it was #bethankful and hasn’t quite become a meme but I wonder what would happen in your workplace if it did?
Maybe you could pass it on and see what you get back?
In this, the third blog in this series I explore the trend in change methodologies that become in themselves the latest trend.
Process is king
Every few years another trend happens in Organisational design and a ‘new’ approach comes along. Whatever they are called they are a process or a methodology that you are supposed to follow to make change happen within the organisation. Generally speaking every manager has to be trained in it or it apparently won’t work, and the really well marketed ones have degrees of capability built in to show that you are more expert in the process than anyone else. They have
their own terminology and jargon and you can put people from different organisations together and they can be using the same terminology to talk about a totally different business. But the fact that so many come and go should tell you something.
So let’s say first off that I’m not against a bit of process or methodology. I think it’s a good thing to give managers tools and skills to help them look at the way their area does things.
Let’s face it most organisations are full of processes. Processes that should be designed to help
people deliver the Organisational outcomes. No process is for ever so what worked a few years ago should always be reviewed to see if it is still working effectively. That’s a managers role, ergo you tool them up to be able to do that. It’s a simple as that.
However from many consultancies point of view you put a few tools together and you have a methodology for that review process. You can sell a methodology. You can’t sell ‘well I get a few people in a room, get them talking about what is holding them up and get them to design a different approach’. For one thing who would need HR (only kidding), but secondly getting people in a room and working the problems together is what managers are meant to do isn’t it? Well actually no in the case of many, so HR often buys a methodology that gets managers doing what good managers have always done.
Trouble is that these methodologies are often treated as if they are a panacea; only the process will solve our problems. That only this methodology can get out the stains that others leave behind. And then some of them can get quite meticulous and exacting, probably because the designer was, but often to make sure that you have to buy the training, the software, the conference, the online forum and the helpdesk. And at that point the process becomes king.
When the point of the process becomes all about following the process then it’s likely that the process is preventing the most sophisticated tool on the planet from doing what it’s good at. The human brain, thinking. And that’s what many methodologies do, even if that’s not what the original designer wanted.
This can also be why so many become passing fads. Because the end user is ‘put through’ training and just doesn’t want to use it to such a high degree, or feels that it takes a long time to get very little, or just doesn’t like being regimented in the way they think, etc.
Organisations need processes and most always will. But an over-reliance on process minimizes people and what they are there for just as an under-processed business can be chaotically inefficient. And when it comes to changing the process then any methodology that is in itself more important than the dialogue between capable people, seems to miss the long term point of change, which is to get people working together to use their brains to improve what they know best; the job they do every day.
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