Recently I’ve been helping my daughter with her math homework. Tonight I sat with her and discussed how she does long division. I was trying to change her mind; to help her understand the right way to do it. She prefers to solve the division problem by trying combinations of multiplication until she comes to the right number. She said to me, “my way is faster”… even though she had just told me math is the subject that takes the most time because of long division. Status quo is “Safe” to her, because it’s what she knows, and because she thinks it works.
You may have noticed I’ve been busy with a number of other things lately and haven’t been able to blog, but I’ve also been trying to decide what my next topic would be. So the conversation was timely. It occurred while I was talking to her, that the reason she doesn’t want to change, is because it’s what she knows.
She’s okay with the inefficiencies. She’s okay with working longer hours. In fact, she really hadn’t connected in her mind how much time it took, or considered that there could be a better way. Her way gets her the outcome the teacher wants. Except that it doesn’t. She thinks status quo is too risky to change, and she’s wrong.
In this post, I want to give you some insight into 4 key components of change. This isn’t ADKAR, but it is about helping other people change and about helping you change yourself.
Good leaders have to be good at change, starting with themselves. So I’m going to share some reasons people avoid change, how you can identify changes you need to make, how to navigate making those changes, and then remembering to celebrate the outcomes.
Avoiding the Change
Below is a list of reasons I think people avoid change and a description of each.
- People are lazy. Hold back the punches, Josh! It’s a valid reason and lazy people need to be called out on it. It is hard work to change the way things are done in the workplace, at home, in life. It’s much easier to do the same thing day in and day out… or is it?
- People don’t want to look different. When you recommend changes, or start doing something different, and you are the only one. It’s awkward. It feels funny. Risky even. Let’s face it, the opinions of your peers, your boss, – if you are in a management position – the opinions of your team, all have a psychological impact on you. Did I mention leadership was hard? Part of being a leader is being different. Embrace it.
- People don’t want to risk changing the outcome. If Process X and Widget Y give me outcome Z, and I get paid for outcome Z, I don’t want to risk changing something that’s worked in the past. Sounds a bit like my daughter. But if you can take a small risk, and do Process X in half of the time, and produce the same or more of outcome Z, why wouldn’t you try? If you don’t, someone else will and that’s a much more plausible risk.
- People don’t want to lose their “power”. If your reason to avoid change is your own self-preservation in the organization, you are part of the problem. That might actually be the definition of Cancer. Your goal is organizational efficiency and success, not your own.
- Consequently, if your goal is organizational efficiency and success, your organization and leadership will recognize that and promote your success. The concept works in start-ups, and it works in old companies. Companies that it doesn’t work in, you don’t want to be a part of anyway.
- People don’t want to lose their jobs. If I improve a process that will no longer require me, does that mean I’m out of a job? 9 times out of 10, “no”, and 9.999 times out of 10 “no” if it was your idea. When you improve a process to a point where it requires fewer man-hours to produce the same outcome, that process becomes sellable, cheaper, and moves the bottleneck in your micro-economy. The people who improved it typically get asked to work on a higher-level problem, related problems, or are shifted to the new bottleneck where more manpower just became a need. There are exceptions.
- People like routine. Change is not routine…. unless the act of change itself becomes routine. Did you see what I did there? You can condition yourself and your team to be comfortable with change. Not for the sake of change, but for the sake of the outcomes change can bring.
- People don’t know they can. For every new organization I’ve joined, it’s taken a few years to get a sense of what can be changed within that organization. Understanding what “walls” around you can move and what “walls” can’t, takes time to figure out. In my experience, more “walls” can move than you probably think.
- People don’t want to get in trouble. Its possible that a decision you make to change a process might make your boss angry. If your theory is right, is it worth the risk? And you could always just ask. Your boss might not be open to change. You have to be willing to follow your upline’s leadership, or you need to find a new upline. On the other hand, if you don’t get your hand slapped occasionally, perhaps you are leaving too much opportunity on the table.
- People don’t want to fail. Failure is definitely a risk of change. That’s why you need to surround yourself with good counselors and avoid bad counselors. Take a look at my other blog posts, how to make a decision and Oops I did it again – how to avoid bad counsel for more insights into how to avoid failure.
Identifying the Change
Below are a list of changes you should be considering on a fairly regular basis. I’m just sharing these at a high level, and may write about each of them in more depth in the future.
- Work-life balance: Target a 40 hour work week unless you are self-employed. If you are regularly clocking 50+ hours a week to do your job there may be something wrong. If that is you, targeting a 40 hour work-week forces you to focus on doing the most important things. You won’t have time not to.
- Informal interactions: How do you interact with your team and peers on a day-to-day basis? Do you smile and say “hi” when you pass someone in the hallway or do you look down and avoid eye contact?
- Formal interactions: Can you improve the way you handle performance corrections? Do you provide good feedback to both low and high performers? How do you carry yourself in meetings?
- Presentation style: This is everything from personal hygiene, to how polished your presentation materials are, to how polished you are in the way you present content.
- Personal development: Are you spending time improving yourself? In 20 years will your job exist as it is today? Probably not. What are you doing to be ready for your next role? Because it’s coming whether you want it to or not.
- Your Attitude: Are you positive or negative. If you are always negative, and you think your job is the problem. Change jobs. If you’ve left multiple jobs for that reason, than the problem is probably you. Find something to be positive about. Go talk to Pastor Kuehl at gr.church.
- Your health: If you aren’t happy with it, go get a personal trainer and join a gym. Do something about it. Continuing to not do something about it only makes it worse.
- The obviously broken: Something that is broken – a process, an outcome, a technology – is just low hanging fruit. Side-note: often the root cause of what’s obviously broken is not what you think. It might look obvious, but if it were that simple, you probably would have already fixed it. Figure out the root cause and work on fixing that.
- The next opportunity: You saw something at a trade-show, a conference, a magazine, or even experience from a prior job or role, and you think it could have a major impact on what you produce.
- The bottleneck: I mentioned in my last blog, an IT Leader’s Must Read, a concept called the law of constraints which states that any effort to improve anything other than the bottleneck in a process is waisted effort. Whatever takes the most effort, time, cost should be the biggest target for change.
- The uncommon sense: One of the best ways to find something to change is to think about what isn’t common sense – like short-term contractors working on new products and long-term, loyal employees maintaining legacy code, or cutting corners that you know will cut you back in the future, or not taking enough time to plan.
- Your schedule and routine: Are you spending enough time with the people that matter. Are you being specific and intent with your time? Is there something you’ve just never made time for that has bugged you?
- Your reputation: It’s changeable. It’s really easy to go from a good reputation to a bad one, but not so easy to go the other direction. I saw a youtube video by Simon Sinek about Seal Team 6 and the value of performance vs trust. You can watch it here. You might ask people where you rank on the performance/trust matrix and see what you find out.
Navigating the Change
I talked about making decisions in a prior blog post, so I’ll just mention here that you need to surround yourself with good counselors and avoid bad ones. If you fail to do that, the changes you make aren’t likely to turn out well.
Step 1. Understand the problem or root cause
Before you start brainstorming ideas on how to change, you have to figure out what you are going to change. Otherwise you might change the wrong thing.
Step 2. Brainstorm and vet the possible solutions
Once you have found the root-cause, or identified what to change, brainstorm solutions with trusted colleagues, advisors, friends, and family. If you are over-weight, it could be the chips, or the treadmill, or the Netflix. Your family will be more than happy to clarify what it is, however hard it may be to hear.
Step 3. Communicate the intent
Communicating intent does two things. First, it keeps you somewhat accountable to others that you are going to start working on changing something. Second, and really important if you are changing something about a team, it gives the team time to really consider what you are changing and to provide feedback. That feedback is invaluable.
Step 4. Refine the solution
Once you’ve communicated intent, you will undoubtedly hear phrases like, “have you thought about this?” or “What if you did it this way?”. Don’t be so pig-headed about your “big change” that you aren’t willing to improve it with feedback. By the way, if you are asked for advice from someone and they don’t take that advice, don’t take it personally.
Step 5. Communicate the change
Once you’ve collected feedback and truly refined your change, communicate that you are moving forward with it. You may need to partner with someone at work, or find an executive champion if your change impacts other teams in a significant way. By this time, though, you’ll have the elevator pitch, you’ll have answered hundreds of questions about it, and you’ll be ready for anything someone might throw at you. And if someone does poke a hole in your change, adapt to their feedback.
Step 6. Implement the imperfect
If you wait to start with a perfect solution, you’ll never get there. Start with Imperfect. A close colleague at work uses the phrase “Our goal is horribly good!” That’s a great start.
Step 7. Improve the imperfect
Once you have implemented the imperfect, immediately start improving it in small sustainable ways. If it didn’t work, fail fast, admit it, and go back to the drawing board.
Celebrating the Change
Lastly, whether you fail fast or your change is wildly successful, celebrate what you learned and celebrate with those that made it happen. If you improved a process, celebrate the goal you met. If you are creating a new product, celebrate product milestones. If it’s a new process, celebrate the anniversary.
Make sure there is positive reinforcement whether it’s a personal change, or a change at work. People need positivity – specifically after times of high stress, anxiety, or overcoming an obstacle. Don’t hold back, and don’t forget.
By now, hopefully you’ve realized this post is not about staying the same. It’s far too risky for you, your team, and your organization to stick with status quo. If that’s you, you really need to get away from your day to day work for a few hours and really consider what needs to change.
My daughter is doing much better in math, in part because I showed her how to properly do long division. Not only did it speed up her homework, but also it helped her get better grades because she actually has time to finish her quizzes and tests.
Now the math problems are harder… She’s moved the bottleneck though, and she’s still interested in my feedback. So that’s a win. I’m hoping that will continue into her teen years. I’m really glad I spent some time tonight to finish this blog post. I’m going to take my own advice, and schedule some time to take her on a daddy daughter date to celebrate.