Policy or Bravery? The True Nature of Organizational Change


You have a grand vision for changing your organization, evolving for a new business world that is changing whether you go along for the ride or not. Inspired by possibilities, you rally a team to set change in motion.

Then you hit a brick wall. People don’t get it, or they think they do and they oversimplify the problem to kill your idea.

“We just need new policies.”
“We just need better training.”
“We need to be careful and not rush into anything too quickly.”

 So you switch to persuading, making your case, sharing metrics and quotes and it goes on and on and you still end up with the same reactions.

Does it sound familiar? Don’t negotiate with this kind of obstructionism. Don’t be hostile either. Don’t become cynical. Don’t subvert people. Don’t do anything you might be tempted to when you’re frustrated and your ego is hurt.

Take a step back and realize that immediate resistance to change is not generally rational. It’s not actually policy your detractors want, it is vision. Don’t give them what they’re asking for, keep giving them what got you motivated in the first place.

They need someone with a vision – and it doesn’t need to be boisterous or forceful to be compelling. Just tell a powerful story and stand up for it. Don’t be defensive, just paint more pictures. Keep telling the story. Be a broken record.   

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Too Rushed To Know Where We’re Going


Job descriptions often call for individuals possessing a “strong bias for action”. Businesses almost always need more execution-focused employees.

So it is natural that we shape the way we talk and interact with co-workers according to this ideal.  One way we portray ourselves as driven by an urgency to act is to speak in simple and punchy generalizations that help summarize massive amounts of information and make it look as though the path forward, what should be done in response to the information, was almost obvious.

Sometimes the path forward is clear, but not always. At least once a year, if not once a quarter, we need to practice the discipline of self-doubt, questioning, putting it all on the table. Deconstruction is one of the most constructive things I do personally and professionally. 

Our company culture asks us to move quickly, especially during difficult times, but we also tend to make hasty generalizations and decisions simply because we’re sitting in a meeting full of puzzled looks and someone has to step forward and cast a vision for the road ahead.

And that vision usually starts with some pretty big assertions about the company, competition and the market context:

“We’re the kind of company that…and not the kind that…”
“X is what we do best, we have to stick to X…”
“Our competition is doing A, but we have to do B better and more efficiently”

But because they are so far-reaching and simple, generalizations can cover much more important and complex internal and external environmental factors that should be factored into our strategy.

It’s important we’ve thought deeply about those generalizations ahead of time and in great detail. Yes, we have to speak concisely and make blanket statements. But had better do our homework beforehand.

That’s where deconstruction comes into play.  Not everyone has the patience for it, but good leaders must thrive off of it.  The only way to refresh your strategy is to have the ability to pull it apart and see it for what it is. Without maintenance, the machine becomes obsolete, fragmented, confused and falls apart.

Action determines whether we move forward, but strategy determines where we’ll end up. So which is more urgent?

Revise, Improve or Hold?


Revise, Improve or Hold?We all have our defaults, some more cemented than others.

It seems that one of the most common defaults we all have is how we respond to challenges.  The three default responses tend to be either: revise, improve or hold.

The problem is, our preferred way of tackling a challenge is not always the best response.  As a universal rule, any one of these on its own would be disastrous. 

Constantly revising the fundamentals is a recipe for insanity. Constantly striving to improve things that are inherently finite in their capacity for improvement will drive you crazy too (while wasting a lot of your time). Clinging to the obsolete breeds mindless, mechanistic stagnation.

So what would happen if we embraced each situation on its own merits, soberly and patiently facing its unique attributes?

If we were to discipline ourselves to practice such delicate respect for nuance, we would see entire industries revolutionized. If we approached our own lives with this level of care, what then?

“But X is always a struggle for any company.”


… Which is all the more reason to give greater attention to the subtleties involved in addressing X.

We are all tempted to normalize mediocrity.  It is easy to dismiss common, pervasive, daunting problems in this way.

In our personal lives, the problems that feel to big to conquer, to complex to work through are usually the ones holding us back from meaningful growth. The same seems to be true of organizational sociology.

Just as with personal identity, organizational identity is formed by the aggregation of thoughts, words and actions of the organization. Over time, we begin to see the good, the bad and the ugly in our company and, unless challenged, these beliefs and attitudes cement and preclude the possibility of change.

So the next time “group think” takes over a meeting and demonstrates collective denial of a problem (and a possible solution), intervene! Your own future is at stake.

 

Iterative Genius


Genius comes through gradual, focused iterations.  It is not necessarily a static property. Genius is in motion.

Like all virtues, genius is achieved through constant practice.  It is simply the optimizing of our capacity of discovery and experimentation through a set of habits.

Scientific method looks at the bare process of genius-like behavior, yet is too cold to capture the human quality that makes this process alive.

In addition to a scientific method, perhaps we need a scientific ethos to invigorate our cold dehumanizing modern approach to genius.

Curiosity, focus, persistence, honesty, thoroughness and even a love for beauty – these are the habits that distinguish a genius from a mere technical expert or mad scientist.

Once we have recast the way of the genius in a more familiar light, we can begin to see the psychological imperative of cultivating gradual, iterative genius.

Work as Human Flourishing


It is a tragic thing to show up to work merely out of necessity.

There are brute realities of survival involved in why we must work. There are bigger realities, however, behind why we want to work.

I am not under the delusion that we can love all the objective/external aspects of our workplace.  There will always be mundane tasks, politics and difficult people.

But it is quite another thing entirely to enjoy the mental and physical exertion of working, the social participation in a team, the tackling of a daunting challenge, and the motivational reward of progress. Honest, hard work forces us to confront our own vices and replaces them with virtues; these virtues bring us personal and relationship depth.

These mysterious internal motivators exist in us, even though they may be obstructed by external barriers or latent due to lack of opportunity. I suppose in this sense I’m an optimist about human nature.

The aspects of most of our workplaces will, realistically, continue to make business less human, personal and enriching. Machines are convenient and eventually, cost-effective; humanity is messy. In a free market, machines will take over simply because companies need to adopt and advance technology to remain competitive.

It’s true that we’ll need creative and abstract analysis and specialized skills will always be needed; but the opportunity for these positions will be more competitive and only open to a small percentage of the total workforce. In this sense, I’m a pessimist about the conditions humans tend to create. Seemingly contradictory stances, I understand.  But that’s another discussion.

Even if you can’t love what you do, for the sake of your soul, never stop trying to love how you do it.

Business Leadership: The Art of Thinking Big & Acting Small


Many people are technically proficient in performing a skill.  There are just as many who easily grasp that skill’s strategic value and tactical purpose.

But you rarely meet both traits in the same person. 

When you do, it’s usually someone doing a curiously excellent job in their work area.  Learn to imitate the intellectual veracity and discipline for execution you observed.  From personal experience, it is easy to imitate one trait; painful to imitate both, but good for you.

It is good for you because it forces you to make better decisions.  Strategists err by not knowing how to actually get the job done; technicians err by not understanding the broader context and long-term implications of their work, so they don’t learn how to do excellently.

Business leaders, responsible for strategic direction, also need to be able to execute, perhaps as well as anyone beneath them.  It’s true that no one can do everything, but everyone can maintain a practice of constantly specializing in at least one skill area.

Imitating good examples keeps you sharp, but it also keeps you humble.  Nothing reminds me how much room for growth I have like trying to be well-rounded.  Leaders get lazy and sometimes become full of themselves when they have others below them to do their bidding.  Getting your hands dirty and honing a technical skill reminds you how much you depend on others to get the job done.

Mastering the art of balancing both conceptual and technical excellence doesn’t make you a good leader, but, stay honest, and it is fairly likely you’ll become one.  Think big, act small, and it’s difficult to avoid becoming an effective business leader.