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.

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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?

Towards a ‘natural’ knowledge management (part 2, nature of knowledge)

Knowledge is almost by default inaccurate, incomplete, unreliable, partially outdated, and changing… The reason it’s all of these things is because it’s personal. What does this mean for knowledge management (KM)?

Knowledge Management Needs a Plan

KM takes a bit of planning… great image by HikingArtist.com

If you’re a knowledge manager you’re basically faced with the task of managing people. Unfortunately their manager is already managing them.

Let’s assume you convince a team to get a handle on their knowledge. What, out of all their knowledge, do you want to document in some system? And what can you document anyway? I’ve talked about these questions in my earlier post Why knowledge management is like herding cats. Things I’ll mention here are best practices, process-related content, and knowledge about your clients.

The nature of knowledge versus knowledge management initiatives

One of the (old?) ways organizations have tried to manage knowledge is by making employees enter stuff they know in a system. But knowledge tends to disintegrate into information inside a system.

  • It’s no longer knowledge transferred from one person to the other. There’s a non-intelligent medium involved which takes away the non-verbal feedback, the adjustments one makes during a conversation.
  • You need to describe your knowledge outside the context where you actually need it.
  • Often there is no real recognition for the effort you put into it.
  • If you show some hesitation, you may well hear convincing arguments like “look, the bottom line is, you have to”.

Just because your company’s interest is in squeezing the last drop of precious knowledge out of your brain before they let you go doesn’t mean it’s got to hurt. The process of entering your most precious asset into an indifferent system on pain of ‘pain’ is not exactly motivating, is it?

The nature of knowledge: learning and expertise

The learning process you’ve undergone in the course of many projects has resulted in your professional expertise. You have learned, re-learned, and even un-learned (check part 1 for more about un-learning). The ‘meta’ level of your knowledge is the veteran professional’s treasure and its the bit that tends to be missed the most when you retire.

To make knowledge sharing more personal, dynamic, and fun, your alternative is to put professionals together and have them talk about their projects, clients, and the like. My impression is that most organizations start doing that kind of thing after they notice:

  • that knowledge can actually walk out the door
  • that having a beautiful system to capture knowledge doesn’t make their problems go away.

In short, they don’t start moving until they notice what’s happening on their watch – and what that could mean for the organization. Last time they noticed some KM guy suggested a system. This time it’s clear that either the system doesn’t work or there’s more to KM than a bit of software. At this point, it’s really important to snap out of the “sh*t-we-need-knowledge-management-NOW” reflex!

One way to make knowledge management ‘work’ (I hope)

What if we tell everyone to spend 5% of their time sharing what they know with others? It could work, but it’s still something “you just have to” do.

Would a culture in which anyone can achieve the position of ‘mentor’ work? In order to avoid it turning into a punishment, I think there are three aspects which may support each other.

  1. Becoming a mentor should be a natural step in one’s career. (Let HR figure out how to make it happen.)
  2. Give ‘mentors’ the resources to document their knowledge. Which means you give them the time they need, away from their other duties. And it means arranging things so they can share their knowledge in a format that suits them.
    1. Writing (blog, article, web page, data in a system)
    2. Talking. One way to get around the ‘stupid (KM) medium’ is being interviewed and capturing the conversation on video.
    3. Training colleagues in a workshop
    4. Making a presentation
    5. Drawing cartoons (here’s a nice one on Mark W. Schaefer’s {grow} blog)
  3. Mentors need to take part in projects with others. Their sole aim is that of identifying areas where expertise is still lacking (to a degree). They either share the necessary knowledge themselves or help find the right people and learning materials to remedy any knowledge issues. Plus they will log what they found and how they resolved it. This way you form an understanding of what people in your organization need to know, but don’t.

Some people have a knack for teaching/mentoring. You don’t need to make it to senior manager before you start sharing what you know! How will you share your knowledge today?

4 steps to turn your business (more) social-minded

Sure, social business has to do with content, and with content marketing. It’s an aspect I’m definitely interested in. But content – or a perceived lack of it – is not the root cause of resistance to social business. It’s this:

Social business means change.

If you try to change today’s organizations there are some common hurdles involving IT, organizational structure and ultimately psychology. In this post I’ll give you 4 simple steps to start edging towards social anyway, knowing you’ll tackle each hurdle – when you’re ready.

First let’s take a quick glance at each of the 3 hurdles I’m talking about:

  • Firstly, every change turns into an IT project. Any change to an existing process means redesigning the process  – and then checking how soon the software that’s supposed to help you do your job can be adjusted accordingly. Until that happens, your precious software will enforce its own logic on your daily work.
  • Secondly, new activities need to compete with the existing ones. The teams and people who have already gained a foothold inside your organization tend to take up all of the available space, budget, and time reserved for meetings. Anything new is perceived as yet another task when everybody is already pressed for time.
  • Finally, new concepts need to ‘conquer’ established practices.

4 steps towards a social business

The whole target-mindedness in marketing departments is a major issue for anyone who would like to suggest a different way of doing things. Social business advocates are not the first to run into this brick wall.

The predominant force within established (marketing) departments is to nail every new idea down by claiming it – and any available budget – immediately, then:

  • put it into a corner,
  • put one person on it and
  • consider the subject covered.

Do correct me if I’m wrong by being too cynical. I realize I’ve read a lot of Dilbert 😉

4 key steps towards a social business

Here are a few things you can do to get started. It’s important to start with at least a bit of awareness, then try integrating ‘social’ into single tasks before taking it further.

1. Conquer the psychological hurdle – step by step

Let employees (including you) get social with the instruction to learn as much as they can to find ways to use social media in their (daily) work. Use this as a conversation starter in workshops to raise awareness of the differences between private and business communication online. Find out for what business purposes employees (including you) in different roles could use social media. And importantly, translate employee experiences into stuff that improves your team’s and company’s performance.

2. Integrate social media into one or two daily tasks

Anything new will only stand a chance if it’s integrated (as a first step, mind you) into some aspect of daily work.

After you figure out (see #1) how social media can add value for you and your team by making some aspect of your daily work easier, better, possibly faster you still need to determing at what exact point and in what way you will use social media as a natural part of the process.

3. Find a new use for old (and new) habits

It doesn’t take much of your time to share stuff you’ve already found, read and reviewed. By sharing interesting articles you:

  • give more people the chance to pick up on important developments.
  • deliver hand-picked content
  • show them that your team has access to content, knows what’s relevant, … contains professionals who know what’s happening.

3. Evaluate with care

After at least a month, have a first ‘light’ evaluation. Have you needed to tweak the initial idea? Does your method seem to work? If so, you’re ready for a one-month (minimum!) trial to see if you can truly integrate ‘social’ into your daily routine. When that month is over it’s time to evaluate the process (your social routine) rather than the results. That comes next and may take a couple of months.

And what about IT?

As far as I’m concerned, software for anything comes in after you’ve figured out what exactly you want to do without it but can’t. It’s no use implementing some great and costly tool that’ll pin your daily workflow to it like an unfortunate butterfly before you even know what your workflow would look like in your new social business.

That’s it for social business this year – if you want to add your thoughts you’re welcome to do so in a comment, and I still promise to reply to every non-spammy contribution 🙂

Social business homework: all employees are not (yet) equal

Do you know the one thing that amazes me the most about social business? It’s the way it doesn’t seem to take off even though your boss says it’s a good idea 😉

Social Business Homework: all Employees are not (yet) equal

Social Business Homework (based on OCAL image)

Of course it really helps if your CEO and/or CFO and others are blogging or tweeting and generally showing their support of social media use by actually being present on them…

Your company may even have a number of employees dedicated to filling social media channels with fresh branded content or teaching others how to use social media for business purposes.

But there’s a snag somewhere I think – wouldn’t things go a little faster if there were not? So where exactly is the hurdle we need to jump?

The perceived value of social media for business

One issue is perception. My impression is that in many parts of businesses, processes are rolling on like they always did with social media seemingly adding little value. But I happen to have done a bit of archiving in my time 😉 and here’s the thing:

  • an archive contains process-bound content. That content is produced as a result of you doing your work. This is valuable information which people may want to know about at a later time, so you need to store it for a number of years.
  • on the other hand, there is information which you may have read to inform yourself about a topic in order to do your work well. Stuff you need to read up is not considered of direct value for the process. So you can chuck it out whenever you like (well, after a year).

This perceived difference in value affects decisions as to who is allowed or expected to use social media as a regular part of their job.

Social business homework: all employees are not (yet) equal

Depending on where you are in your organization you’ll be able to use social media for different purposes. Some of them add value directly and some indirectly.

  • For people with a lot of professional connections on LinkedIn – I mean connections they actually know and have spoken with – and for whose job a large network is essential it’s relatively easy to use LinkedIn to benefit their company. If they need to come up with new leads, they check who in their network is familiar with the topic or has connections that bridge the gap between their own company and the potential customer’s business.
  • Making new connections is easy on Twitter, but not everyone wants to engage in conversations. Finding people with similar interests is great though. If they’re in your industry or in the same region as well you may at some point meet up at an event and add your new connection on LinkedIn (or Facebook if that’s your preferred place for contact).
  • Another thing: I use Twitter to look up recent posts/articles on subjects I need to read up on. Actually Twitter is the reason I’m not using search machines exclusively anymore for finding relevant information about anything regarding social media, social business, content marketing. Because social media marketers and content marketers are out in force on social media 🙂

My point is that each way of using social media adds value – but that value is not equally visible. And nothing you do counts unless you make sure people notice you’re getting results doing it.

Accepting that using social media can work

How to integrate social media into your work:

  1. Examine your job and identify one or two tasks, where social media may add value.
  2. Make sure you know exactly at what point and to what purpose you will be using social media.
  3. Don’t overcomplicate. If it means you “search database X, Google it, and check Twitter” for information about a topic, fine.
  4. Keep it up for at least a month, because apparently that’s how long it takes us to form new habits.
  5. Then check the results and ask yourself if you’ve developed new methods that allow you to get the most from your new way of working.
  6. Make a note of any tangible result you got through social media.
  7. Review your daily activities again for other tasks that may benefit from using social media.
  8. If there aren’t any, fine. One or two tasks are a great start. Don’t rush.

The best way to prove the value of social media for business would be if you could tell your manager that you found that excellent article/that lead/a piece of information through a search on Twitter or a tip from a Facebook friend or a LinkedIn connection… if that leads to raised eyebrows you can always add that your study at X has given you an excellent network of professionals in your field 😉

As far as I’m concerned you’re ‘social media-enabled’ as an employee when your manager (and the level above that) accepts that you use social media for some aspects of your work because it helps you get the results they need.

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed it’s that accepting the fact that social media can contribute to almost anyone’s work is crucial – and not always straightforward.

Please add your thoughts about social business, social media, and any related topic in a comment – I promise I’ll respond to any non-spammy contribution as I value your input 🙂

Social business: what we need is a plan

If you’re interested in ‘going social’ you need to know why your company should do so. Do you have an answer ready?

Good 🙂

In this post I will ask a few (impertinent) questions and hope they help you decide what to do about ‘social’. In other words, my aim is to make you think. All right, now I’m in trouble 😉

Social business: what we need is a plan

Chocolate inside and out
Social business mixes social media in – inside and out.

While reading some recent articles I noticed that several of them mention the ‘checklist approach’ to social media (I’m borrowing the word from Steven van Belleghem).

It’s a tactical approach: are you on Twitter? Check. Facebook? Check. So you’re ready. Right?

When you ask businesses ‘why’ they are on social media, chances are they’ll tell you something like “the whole world is there, so our customers are somewhere in there with the rest of the world”.

I’m not arguing. But that’s just one step on a long journey.

How does your content strategy connect with your social media strategy?

Yup, this non-strategist is talking strategy for once – but only to ask you more questions.

How will you connect with (not just ‘reach’) people on social media – or even on your own blog or web site?

Does every piece of content you create help your customers in some (small) way? When you read an article it really helps if it’s well-written and either amusing, or interesting, or both. Add a comment below if you disagree with me 🙂

You need people within your company to want to achieve this connection with customers. What value you aim to offer to customers should be clear to all. It shouldn’t be up to each individual employee (or team) to imagine where the link between the ‘top blah’ (vision, mission statement) and your company’s customers might be found.

How will becoming a social business help you help your customers?

An article by Adi Gaskell refers to a recent report by IBM stating that three main approaches have proved successful as starting points for the journey to social business heights:*

  • Creating valued customer experiences
  • Driving workforce productivity and effectiveness
  • Accelerating innovation.

Whichever starting point you choose, you need to integrate ‘social’ into the entire process. It’s not something a few isolated employees can do for you. It takes a plan that involves everyone at some stage, in order to achieve anything above the bare minimum.

In other words, if you want to become a ‘social business’, social media is not the cherry on your chocolate cake. It’s not just the chocolate that glistens on the outside and makes you want to eat until you burst. It’s firstly the cocoa you mixed into the dough. And it’s the chocolate icing. And, possibly, it’s also the cherry – although that’s optional. You get my drift 🙂

Social media creates valued customer experiences

Funnily enough, I wrote most of the above before reading a post which to me seems the perfect inspirational example when it comes to customer experiences (even if you feel there’s no way you’ll ever measure up to this stuff).** Read it, enjoy it, ask yourself what is in there that you could use in some way. How will your use of social media make a difference to your customers?

A few thoughts about social business – and why you need a plan for it

  1. You can’t add social media to an existing business as an afterthought and expect to become a social business.
  2. You need a plan so you don’t get distracted by the latest hype all the time.
  3. Without a plan, you could end up out of breath by going nowhere at all.

Social media has been called ‘disruptive’. I take that to mean it creates a healthy imbalance in places where everything used to stay more or less the same. You need to think about business basics, and see how social media fit into your business.

You need a plan to let social media influence your entire mix of activities in a structured way.

Social business is not a thing – it’s an emergent property of the way you handle the potential of social media.

References

* Adi Gaskell, IBM reveals the secrets to social business success, Business2Community, November 10. Adi refers to this report by IBM, The business of social business: what works and how it’s done.

** Matt Wilson, 3 essentials that power Disney Parks’ social media strategy. PR Daily, November 12.

Hoping I’ve managed to make you think, even for a moment, about the essence of social business – if so, please let me know by using the comment box below!