How to change the minds of experienced professionals

Have you ever suggested what you considered to be a minor change to an experienced professional, only to watch them go ballistic? Somehow not everyone likes changes to the way they work – not even if you leave out words like “change”, “improve”, or “different”.

In this post I’ll show you how you could handle this kind of situation – by sharing some experiences from when I did an archiving project.

One common mistake when introducing a change to experienced professionals

You forgot it’s a change to someone’s work – a big deal for them.

How to help experience professionals change

Change: where to stop, how to go forward?

Just because you know what needs to be done doesn’t mean everyone else knows about your plan, or agrees. You’re going to have to convince them no matter what their manager has told you.

Our team’s project goal was to structure and clean out the team archives. The biggest bunch of paper was kept by someone who didn’t care what his manager thought. A previous undiplomatic attempt to clean things up had not improved his temper.

Why do people react so negatively to change?

People build a set of actions that they know will work most of the time. It’s called experience. Telling them to change is like yanking the chair out from under them. I wrote about the way change projects can go wrong in an earlier post.

In my experience, a lot of resistance comes from people who are very much involved. They have made it their personal responsibility to safeguard certain knowledge.

It’s just a set of procedures. What’s so hard about following rules?

Maybe you feel you’re only following the (new) rules. But rules aren’t people.

Experienced professionals know that many new rules and projects will go away after a while, leaving things pretty much the way they were with a few minor tweaks. If you make a lot of noise, some people will wait for you to leave and for the dust to settle after your exit.

Back to the archives: I knew our objectives. And then I let an individual employee get away with about half a dozen exceptions to our rules. Why? Because I needed the person’s cooperation and even goodwill. That’s why.

Importantly, I didn’t break or even bend any rules. I just:

  1. made sure to ‘weed’ the files as lightly as possible, so anyone could reconstruct the process that had produced an important final document.
  2. stressed the potential importance of the files so we’d have to keep them secure for longer. Within that time those files would probably be digitized, and kept for ever. If not, the ‘keeper of the keys’ would be retired before anything happened. Even he could agree that he wouldn’t be guarding the archives past the age of 70.
  3. personally guaranteed to our seasoned professional he’d be able to access the files whenever he asked to.

How do you convince experienced professionals who don’t want change?

Convincing experienced, critical, ‘difficult’ professionals is the only way to move forward without being pushed back in ways you never anticipated. For this you need to understand the role a person sees him/herself in.

For best results, leave people’s professional identity intact.

Advertisements

Bridge the gaps: how knowledge management helps you learn

How are learning and innovation connected to something as outwardly dull as knowledge management? In this post I’ll explore the question how managing your personal knowledge allows you to focus your learning efforts.

Do You Know Where You Need To Go?

Do You Know Where You Need To Go? Bridge your knowledge gaps
Photo posted on Flickr by Halil Gökdal; Vimeo video byEugenia Loli-Queru.

Learning and humor

In my previous post I compared knowledge management to herding cats. Using metaphors can help explain a topic while adding a dash of fun to dry facts (or severely dehydrated opinions). It helps the learning process along. A post I read some time ago was about “comparing apples to oranges“. I enjoyed the post, which was actually about innovative ideas.

Innovative approaches are often the result of looking at familiar topics from a different angle. In that respect, innovation has a lot in common with humor: take two seemingly completely different topics, crash them into one another, and see what happens. If you want a slightly more predictable result, you try to control the process that leads to innovation (or humor).

Using proverbs, metaphors, and other ‘language tools’ in learning is not without hazards. Reading in a non-native language makes it even trickier. For example, I’ve always thought of “comparing apples to pears” (from Dutch) as measuring two completely different things by the same criteria. In that case a perfect orange would make a lousy apple (or Apple). On the other hand, in innovative thinking, borrowing criteria from one context and applying them in a different context may yield unexpected insights.

Connecting knowledge management to learning – and innovation

You could view personal knowledge management as a controlled way of assessing what you know. ‘Knowing what you know’ gives you a basis for deciding what you else you need to know but don’t. You can then focus on bridging the gaps by either learning about those topics yourself, or by contacting someone who has the necessary knowledge and asking them for help. Both actions have their pros and cons.

  1. By taking control of your learning process, you will gain new expertise which may serve you well in the future. On the other hand, you need to judge what level of knowledge you need. If it’s knowledge on a specialist level which you need urgently, learning may take too much time. If speed doesn’t matter quite so much you can focus on learning the basics and figuring out the rest as you go along. This tends to happen on blogs a lot 😉
  2. By contacting an expert, you ‘risk’ two different world views crashing into each other. If you communicate what you need (and don’t need) from the exchange, and facilitate an honest and open dialogue, you may discover more in less time than if you try to master a new topic by yourself. Moreover, if you bring in a person with a different background, opinion, and expertise, you won’t be able to self-censor anything which doesn’t fit into your view of the topic. This way you open up new possibilities. It’s up to you to then select the things that might actually work for you. This kind of confrontation is useful for innovative thinking, but it’s also a great way to get unstuck if you’re stuck trying out #1.

(I’ve actually done #1 on this blog, and I’ve helped someone out being their ‘nearest WordPress.com expert’ so that’s my #2 for now.)

Using knowledge management (KM) to learn

Harold Jarche, in a post on his KM blog, mentions David Williamson Shaffer’s book How computer games can help children learn. After explaining the word epistomology (the study of knowledge, page 10), Shaffer goes on to say:

“…here I argue that computers create both the means and the necessity to fundamentally rethink what it means to know something – and thus what is worth learning and how we teach it.”

I don’t think it’s specifically a computer thing, but I do think computers have made it painfully clear what happens when technology changes and we don’t accept that change means we need to adjust – to learn. Nowadays it’s worth reviewing our assumptions on a regular basis. The problem for many people is that it usually doesn’t seem worth the effort. You can use your time to do either of these things:

  • sit around thinking about what you know, or
  • get your job done and bring food to the table.

If you lose your job, your first inclination won’t be to sit and think carefully but to put the turbo on to get a job. If that doesn’t work you may spend some time panicking before you sit down and (hopefully) think things through. Most of us only sit and think either when we can afford to take the time, or when we have exhausted all other options – when we have to.

Check up on your assumptions (or ‘knowledge’) at regular intervals

What if you take the proverbial ‘step back’ from your canvas every few weeks to check where you’re going, where you want to go, what you need to do next, and what other options you see? Options which you’ll leave largely unexplored for now, but keep in a treasure chest until you want them.

Read more:

How do you view your (personal) knowledge and its management – how do you decide what to learn next?

Hat tricks in business: why change is an unwelcome guest

My earlier post about change management sparked a few interesting comments. Change isn’t always welcomed by the people who ‘ought’ to change.

Why do people treat change like an unwelcome guest?

Change: do you take things as they come? [Click to view on Flickr]

Change: do you take things as they come? [Great photo by Anders Young on Flickr]

People in a business environment are mostly employees, and a smaller part of the group consists of managers, senior managers…

You could argue that change in business means some can’t keep up, and dysfunctional employees or teams show up like a sore thumb. You could even add more (possibly quite cynical) reasons for individual employees to reject change.

Take an employee’s view of organizational change for a moment. Having change thrust upon you for no (apparent) good reason doesn’t help you embrace the process. Especially if you don’t see that there’s anything wrong with you or the way you do your job. But there’s more.

Hat tricks in business

Consider a magician’s classic hat trick in a business environment. Some enthousiastic individual bounces into your office, or cubicle, or wherever, and pushes the hat under your nose. A rather pungent animal smell wafts out. What can you expect? Will you find a cute (but slightly nervous) white rabbit? Or will you end up pulling an unkempt smelly goat out of the hat? Or… worse?

Keep this situation in mind. Now let’s push two distinct groups into the spotlight – call them ‘change advocates’ and ‘bean counters’ – and compare their actions and motives.

  1. Change advocates are convinced that changing [fill in favorite topic] will improve your organization.
  2. Bean counters are convinced that cost cutting will improve your organization’s balance sheet.
  3. Change advocates tell you to work differently in order to achieve more.
  4. Bean counters tell you to work more efficiently so they’ll need fewer employees.
  5. Change advocates believe that a tasty carrot will convince people to change, and say that working differently will make you (feel) better.
  6. Bean counters are of the stick persuasion and say:
    1. If you don’t work more efficiently we’ll fire you.
    2. If you do work more efficiently we’ll wait a bit longer then fire the other guy. Possibly. Unless you grow slack. (If this sounds like Dilbert: I think I swallowed the book a couple of years ago. Have been unable to locate its whereabouts.)

The rest of us are, in the average organization, probably somewhere in the line of fire between these two world views.

Change projects gone cost-crazy

One thing which happens to projects started with the best intentions is that they are interpreted as a way to cut costs by financial teams. Assuming you are in favor of a specific change: if you don’t prepare for this eventuality you could lose control over your project.

How on earth will you combine change and finance without forfeiting every last bit of trust? I would say by starting early and taking the financial side into account from before the word “go”.

  1. Your project plan or business case should show clearly what you intend to achieve and what is out of scope. Prepare a document listing potential side-effects and answer a couple of questions. How likely is it: that this side-effect will occur? That it will lead to a substantial cost reduction? How likely is ‘finance’ to pick up on this possible side-effect and treat it as a fact? How could this impact your project? Evolve a worst-case scenario and look for counter-measures.
  2. Double-check if your plan aligns with any of the plans laid out for your organization as a whole.
  3. Reality check. Meet up with someone outside the financial team, but with a similar professional profile. Risk aversity is a major requirement. Test your plans on this individual to make sure you’re prepared for attempts to hijack a project started with the best intentions.
  4. Make sure you get 1, 2 and 3 sorted out before you enter the bean counters’ den. Otherwise expect fur to fly and the result to be either
    1. some bit of shared Cheshire Cat wisdom on the lines of “if you don’t know where you want to go, you can pick any direction you like” – and your budget slashed, or
    2. your project turned into a cost-cutting tool. A rather ineffective one since you didn’t start your project with the intention to cut costs. And one that will leave any number of employees extremely distrustful of change initiatives in the future.

I hope you enjoyed this post – one triggered at least in part by the comments on my previous post. Have you encountered any ‘hat tricks’ in your organization – or have you seen business change at its best?

X is for Change. Making good ideas work in big organizations

This is a bit of an odd one out in view of all the knowledge management posts I’ve written lately. Yet there is a common background to them: change in organizations.

Apart from knowledge management, there is social business, and probably a couple of other great change initiatives I’m not aware of, but that you’ve witnessed from the enthousiastic launch right down to the moment when the last “new way of thinking” motivator turned their minds to different activities – or launched the escape pod to another company in hopes of finding converts there.

Change in Big organizations

Change for the better? – Image by HikingArtist.com

Big change is bad news in big organizations

Getting an existing company to change the way it does its work may involve changing the organization chart. It’s messy and people tend not to like that. Employees don’t like it because it could be their job on the line. Managers and the people with jobs that start with a C don’t like it because change, real change, could backfire in a big way. That would leave them looking rather silly in terms of return-on-bonus 😉

But they can’t do nothing. So they hire someone to handle the new project. This one person may even grow into a small team. They target groups of people at once, trying to make as many converts as possible.

After a while, budget is moved elsewhere and the expert or team may move along with it to another department. The bar may be lowered because things don’t go as smoothly as hoped.

Small change is… very small change in big organizations

In a big organization, small changes look like background noise. They may still be fundamental changes, but it takes a while for any change to come up to the surface to get some fresh air.

Most people who try to change the organization (or at least parts of it) are experts in their own field: knowledge management, social media in business, or anything else. Unfortunately it looks as though the cash cow is grazing on a different field: that of change management. Knowledge management, social business, and the like, give you something to aim for. Lack of knowledge and skills to help you get there frustrates your whole project.

Good ideas in big organizations need change management

What is change management? If done right, the recipe contains organizational theory, strategy, ideas about how to deal with the human resources side of it all, possibly some other herbs and spices, and psychology (quite a lot of that actually).

Suppose you’re trying to get someone to fly to the moon. Or to abandon their cart in favor of travelling by train. You need to convince your intended converts:

  • that the goal is worth working towards.
  • that your contraption won’t break up, explode, crash or simply grind to a halt in the middle of nowhere.
  • that they can actually operate the vehicle – that they will be trained thoroughly.
  • that they will get real help quick whenever they don’t know what to do next (I just got a flash of the Apollo astronauts calling the helpdesk…yikes!).
  • that they will benefit from their effort – not chucked out into the cold.
  • that there is no true alternative, even though they think they’re sitting on it – that there is no comfort zone.

Make any change look too insignificant, and people will be so slow in moving you’ll barely notice their progress. Make it look too big and scary, and people will freeze up and wait for you to leave and leave them alone.

Disruptive change? No thanks.

Steer clear of the organizational terminators if you really want to change anything.

X is for change

In the course of your working life you may have read articles calling for a CIO, a CKO, or a CMO – and I just remembered a CCO too. Some of them even exist in a couple of companies, though rarely on a par with the “big C”s: the CEO (boss) and CFO (finance).
Based on my own experiences my vote would go to a CXO: a change leader. Just to get the good ideas going on a strategic level. I can’t guarantee it’ll work – but I have the impression it might just make things that little bit easier.

Read more:

Have you ever initiated what would have been a welcome change (for the better) for your organization, or part of it? Or, have you ever wished a co-worker success with their attempts to change anything wondering how long they’d last?