January 21, 2018

Blending the intervention

Four people speaking in front of a laptopWe don’t have all the answers. That’s true whether we’re on the outside of the issue looking in or on the inside looking out.

The leadership team knows its business, whereas the change agent knows something useful the insiders don’t currently have. Neither has all the answers, nor even all of the pieces available collectively.


The way forward needs to be a blend of both—both what the leadership team already has and what the change agent is bringing, but not usually all of either.

For the necessary co-creation to happen, both parties need to let go of something—to give up part of their model.

Are you ready to do that?

You can’t really assess your staff…

Four business people in a discussion… unless you’re sure you’ve provided effective leadership.

If you’re looking for the people who work for you to be self-motivated and highly productive, you can’t sensibly begin to assess whether they are or not, unless or until you’re sure you’ve provided good leadership.

Otherwise your actions (or inactions) are a bigger factor than their character.

And it’s probably not a question of just telling them what to do.

Yes, you may well need to be demanding, but the key point is, is the direction you are providing clear, or at least are any ambiguities clearly understood and balanced?

If not, the inertia caused by lack of direction will be the dominant factor.

And you won’t really know whether your people are any good or not.

And, of course, with the right leadership…

Ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things.

If we’re serious about collaboration…

Three people, two shaking handsEveryone seems to want autonomy at the moment—well, perhaps not quite everybody.

The trouble is…

Complete autonomy means no influence.

If we’re serious about collaboration, we have to share power. We have to accept we won’t get our way on everything.

If we want some influence, we might have to give up on some autonomy.

We might even have to give away some power, to gain some influence, though, of course, we’ll want to retain as much of both as possible.

As with many things…

It’s all a balance.

If your organization was an orchestra, how would it sound?

Conductor and orchestraIs everyone playing the same piece? Are they even in the same hall? Assuming, yes, then how unified is the performance?

Ok, the comparison is not entirely valid, because an organization needs to evolve, so some players need to be trying out new things, and new additions to the team need to be practising and tuning up in another room.

But still, as its conductor, are you satisfied with what you hear?

If you yourself were an orchestra, how would you sound?

Which do you notice first, what’s right or what’s wrong?

Gold in rockVic Conant, owner of Nightingale Conant Corporation, producer of audio learning programs and more, rarely goes in front of the microphone. One time he did, one of the most striking things he said was how some people would dismiss the learning from a wise source because “they didn’t like their voice” or some other ultimately irrelevant reason. It saddened him because in so doing, they missed out on learning which might well have enriched their lives.

And so it is for us…

If we want to find a reason to dismiss something, we’ll find one. Everything and everyone is fallible. What they say will have its weaknesses. Yet, we probably need the rest of what they have to offer and will be the poorer without it. The search for the perfect answer is futile. It doesn’t exist.

And there’s more…

If we look first for what’s wrong with something or someone, we’re kind of hard to be with.

Now here’s the thing…

Looking for the problem is part and parcel or the majority of professions, and it’s important, even vital. But relationship-building behavior warrants a shift, at least some of the time, to looking for what’s right with something or someone.

Two takeaways then…

1. Keep unnecessary information out of what you say and minimise the seeds you sow for a listener to dismiss you and your message.

2. Look for what’s right in something or someone and value that. See beyond the frailties to the gold inside.

Is trust an all or nothing thing?

Three people, two shaking handsOne idea leads to another. Quickly the project takes shape. It’s all quite unexpected and the end result is way beyond the initial starting point. Why? Because the individuals involved trust each other absolutely, not so much about money though that is important, but about sharing the risks of vulnerability and relying on the other’s support. And, by the way, they have never met face-to-face.

In contrast…

The parties cautiously suggest minor changes, protecting their position at all times, giving little away, trying various gambits, manipulating the numbers, always on their guard. The end result is an improvement on the starting point, but only just. And it’s slow. Being face-to-face doesn’t seem to help much.

In a workshop on “information overload”, participants seem to like the idea of deciding whether individual relationships are trusting or not, and dealing with them one way or another if they aren’t, because relationships without trust consume energy and generate excess information to be handled.

There’s no rocket science here, but I’ve been struck by what a huge difference absolute trust makes in a working relationship – not so much a factor of 2 as a factor of 10.

Of course…

Trust is one of these “be the change you want to see” things. If we want other people to be trustworthy, we need to be that way ourselves. We need to be on the high ground. No use trying to get other people to trust us, if we’re not trustworthy ourselves. (I’ve heard people say they don’t trust such-and-such a person, having just revealed how they’ve manipulated their own numbers. Funny that.)

But what about when it seems unclear?

Can you have degrees of trust? Can you half trust someone (or a business)? Or a quarter, or three-quarters?

Here’s an angle…

On-line, I believe it’s an absolute, more than off-line. On line, anything less than 100% trust is no trust at all. So our attitude to trust is increasingly important.

What do you think?

When you go into “dialogue,” are you ready for change?

Three people in discussionOne inevitably leads to the other, or should…

Mark is fighting his corner well. Back and forth goes the debate. Mark concedes little. He comes away with most of what he wants. All are tired out and the other side have doubts about engaging with him again. Even now, no-one really understands the whole problem.

John seeks joint learning about an issue. All contribute from their knowledge and experience without taking positions. John insists that all make their assumptions explicit. He leads by example. A mutual understanding of the problem develops. New solutions emerge. John comes away with a little less than Mark in the short run, but the long term result is much greater.

In the jargon of organizational learning, mediation and other fields, Mark is engaged in “discussion” and John is in “dialogue.” With complex problems, dialogue stands the best chance of finding a good solution. The clarity that results is also vital to organizational learning.

So far, so familiar maybe. You probably advocate dialogue yourself.

But here’s the thing…

When we say we want a dialogue about an issue, have we realized that means opening the door to our own change and growth? After all, if the point of dialogue is learning (which it is), then chances are, we’re going to be doing some of the learning, including about our own selves maybe.

If not, are the others going to do all the learning and all the changing? That implies we’re already complete. That’s not likely, surely. In truth, it implies we’re still wedded to our position.

We could make progress by looking to our own learning.

Does dialogue lead to change and growth in your experience? How open to that are you, when you say you want a dialogue?

Is individual learning enough to deliver organizational learning?

You’ve heard it before. You might even have said it yourself…

“Training doesn’t work.”


“When I get back to the workplace, I find it very hard to apply what I’ve learned.”

These can be opposite sides of the same coin – a disconnect between individual learning and organizational learning.

The thing is…

We can train as many individuals as we like in new skills, but if the organization doesn’t learn anything, the organization’s overall behavior and performance won’t change.

So what has to happen for an organization to learn?

Peter Senge, a leading authority in this area, would say there needs to be a shared vision of a compelling future; shared models and understanding of how things work; unbiased dialogue; an understanding of the systemic and dynamic nature of things (in which cause and effect may be separated in both time and space); and personal acceptance of both responsibility for outcomes and the need to improve personal performance, which he calls “personal mastery”.

In balder terms, the leaders of the organization need to go on a learning journey together and take a critical mass of the workforce along with them.

Peter’s prescription shows why “gaming” the system can be so damaging to progress because it makes learning by the organization and the wider enterprise impossible. His conditions are not met when players manipulate things for their own ends. Examples are all around.

He also says that the key enabler of the conditions for organizational learning is the quality of the relationships amongst the participants.

So you might like this reminder…

Take care to distinguish between individual learning and organizational learning. If you want the latter to occur, you might need to deliver more than just the former.

And you might like to apply your skill in relationships to the organizational learning on which we all depend.

How strong is the connection between individual learning and organizational learning in your world?

Is our instinctive, defensive response to competition the right one?

When the going gets tough, when markets contract, when budgets decline, when promotion is rare, our instinctive response is to retreat and defend what we have. Parts of our brain that kept us alive in a more dangerous world respond vigorously to the threats we perceive. They compel us to withdraw from any circumstance where we could be vulnerable, such as a situation where we share our knowledge and resources in collaborating with another.

This response to threat can be so strong it’s barely a conscious process at all. The strength of our defensive reaction leaves us with a certainty that it’s unquestionably the right one.

But is it? Does our hasty retreat from collaboration serve us?

Perhaps the most effective response to scarcity and threat is the exact opposite, to collaborate, to share what we have, to form new teams, to focus on our strengths, and allow others to do on our behalf what they do best, even though that requires sacrifice. Then the whole may succeed on the bigger stage and our individual outcome may be better than if we’d acted alone.

Suppose it does serve us to collaborate: How do we make this happen? How do we take our people along with us?

One key is articulating a compelling future so that the long term gain seems worth the short term pain.

We need high levels of integrity and to seek that quality in others. To be trusted and so involved in the best opportunities, we need to be seen as a mature and honest collaborator.

We need the skills to work intelligently with the interests and values of all and balance these to optimise the whole for the ultimate gain of all.

Are our defensive responses to increased competition with colleagues, other departments, other organizations, other countries, the responses that should guide us? Or are we better to resist our primitive instincts and collaborate rather than defend? And if so, how?

How do you respond to competition?