From Changing Tools to Making Progress – Improving Amenability

In Part 1, I introduced the three slices of the existing setting, and asked how far a change of some defined kind would go when introduced. I outlined some possibilities, and likened the situation to adding an effervescent tablet to a glass of water (as a liquid, or when partially and completed frozen).

Let’s play with that idea. If the water is partially or completely frozen, what options do you have to make the glass of water more amenable to the effervescent tablet? I came up with four options:

1. Warm up the surrounding environment. For example, put the glass into a bucket of warm water.
2. Smash and pummel the ice, ideally after you’ve removed it from the glass though.
3. Warm up one slice and allow that to slowly change the rest.
4. Superheat the soon-to-be introduced change. This requires imagining the tablet as a metal disc (stretch here) that could be heated in order to have an immediate effect when added to the top of the frozen ice.

Since we’re not actually interesting in the glass of water and are only using it as a metaphor, what could those four strategies look like in an organisational setting?

1. Warm Up the Context. Start talking about the need for change. Start modelling the new behaviours that will be required for the change to be successful. Hire new people into the team or group who have different expectations and mindsets, and who have some experience with similar changes in other settings.

2. Smash and Pummel. Implement a very disruptive change that breaks apart the existing setting. For example, fire half the team and bring in new talent. Or de-establish the team entirely and force everyone to re-apply for their jobs, with new job descriptions on the table, and all jobs open to new comers as well. Include new ways of working as part of the new job descriptions.

3. Warm Up One Slice. Change the office layout to facilitate new interaction models and collaborative occasions. Or introduce training sessions on a continuous improvement methodology, and explore how this could be applied to the tasks done in the unit. Or run a workshop on team culture, get an assessment done, and start exploring how to improve the cultural tone / smell of the unit.

4. Superheat the Change. Become an over-the-top evangelist and champion for the upcoming change, hyping it as the best thing ever. Drink the Kool-aid. Go full out on buzzword bingo. Set a high bar in terms of what it will do.

My assessment is that a mix of #1 and #3 would be most effective. #2 could backfire significantly, and while it may be eventually required, shouldn’t be the first strategy to try. And #4 is pretty much doomed to fail, because while it will have an immediate effect on what it touches initially, it is most likely to be neutralised fairly quickly, but not before you have turned the initially people against the rest of the team, and vice versa.

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