Continuing with Change Velocity, now’s the time to get into the meat of it
So here are the first two of four major components: Personal and Organisational Factors.
So what areas influence an organisation’s change velocity?
We’re going to break this down into four categories – each with its own sub-set of levers and buttons that can be pulled and pushed to speed up the organisation’s ability to change. Those categories are:
1. Personal factors
2. Organisational factors
1. Personal factors
You may be wondering what does the personal have to do with my organisation’s ability to change. The perspective of Culture Shock is that an organisation is made up of people, rather than of bricks or inventory or processes. People are the organisation. And so to shift how well a whole organisation responds to change, we must shift how the many individuals that make up that organisation each respond to change.
It is well understood that it is normal to find change difficult. Just check out the shelves of the self-help sections in a book shop or do a quick Google for ‘behaviour change’. So given that change is difficult, if we are to personally help change our organisations, and credibly lead such change, we must ourselves understand change intimately and be evolving ourselves.
The highest order lever, then, is our own attitude and approach towards change. We must develop a personal appreciation of the challenge of change. We must sample and interrogate the flavours of change just as a wine buff would roll a fine wine around her palette – picking out the flavours, the nuances, the good bits and the bad! Change, then, must be something we taste, feel, appreciate (appreciate does not necessarily only mean positively – like you can appreciate a cold rain or a hard run!).
We must take the attitude that change is a constant, and that what we can influence is how we respond to it and flex with and around it.
And we must respect, appreciate and constantly learn about what it is like to change personally, over time developing our own reasonably strong understanding of how we personally respond to change.
Understanding things like:
• What do I personally find hard to change in myself?
• How do I typically respond to change at first?
• What motivators really work for me to see change through?
In short, our attitude must be two-fold: embracing of change, and respectful of the consequences and demands of change. Doing so gets us ready for everything that follows.
My limited understanding of the power of habits has been gained from two brilliant Professors of Behaviour Change – Ben Fletcher and Karen Pine. In their Do Something Different programme, they have developed a programme to guide personal change based on their academically robust research which is now being used at large-scale in deprived areas in the UK to enable individuals to unlock the personal habits that prevent change.
As I have learnt from Ben and Karen, our habits are a complex web of behaviours that may control us more than we realise. And these habits are fairly hard to wiggle out of – they interlink and hold one another in place. We are, to quite a large degree, ‘habit machines’ – much less conscious of our decision-making than we at first realise.
Think about this:
• When you take a shower, in which order do you wash yourself?
• How do you travel to work each day?
• Where do you normally sit on a bus or a train?
• Do your arguments with loved ones tend to have particular pattern? If so, what are the patterns?
• What do you choose for lunch and where do you go?
This mesh of habits both help by making the nuts and bolts of everyday life simpler, and hinder by providing a barrier to us changing some of the habits we wish to. So if we shift the context to that of you at work, you may start to find habits there: how you respond to communications, both physical and digital; how you react under pressure; how you give and receive praise; how you say yes and say no and who to. Can you think of habits you have at work? Can you observe habits and patterns in those you work with?
The Do Something Different programme operates on the basis that loosening up the grip of some of our most basic, ‘unimportant’ habits makes way for us to be able to take more transformative personal steps.
So if the purpose of you reading this book is to change how business happens in the 21st century, and we agree that organisations are made up of individuals, then one of the keys to change is going to be the individual changing of habits: starting with your own!
In order to be able to personally change, and to therefore become part of the positively-evolving future organisation, like Short Circuit’s Johnny Five, you ‘neeeeeed input’.
This skill is in managing your attention, especially in listening, in dialogue and in empathy.
The successful leader in change senses and pays attention to what the market is doing, to what customers are saying (and not saying), to what their colleagues are feeling and seeing themselves. (I’m guessing that as a reader of this kind of book you already know that).
This is why the business press has notably shifted in the past 5 years to a focus on things like Emotional Quotient (EQ) over IQ, to celebrating right-brained qualities like creativity and empathy over linearity and number crunching.
In my first and only proper job a very experienced and quirky sales person told me that we have two ears and one mouth and in selling one should use them in that ratio – it’s an old saw, of course, and one you’ve no doubt heard yourself many times. I suggest, as so many others have before, that the same applies to anyone that desires to create change through working with people. If we are to lead change (not just once, but continuously) it would be better to listen twice as much as talk.
Finally, in order to accelerate our own change velocity – which frankly sounds like something out of a bad science fiction novel – we have to cultivate our own humility.
It is one thing to hear feedback that tells us that something we have done or are responsible for must change. It is another to act on that feedback and accept that we were wrong. Yet this is the very quality we need to wash through our teams, our organisations and our business community – a willingness to be wrong, an acceptance of other people’s opinions and ideas, the self-belief and humility to publicly change course. Because this is the fuel of change velocity.
We cannot change but getting it right every time. We cannot go from stasis to ‘perfect next step!’. We have to make a mess, learn-by-doing, and crack on without losing vital time in endless paralysing focus groups and internal discussions.
To change, we have to DO. And to do the big things that need doing (like changing how our whole organisation behaves, one step at a time) we need humility and self-awareness.
By cultivating humility and demonstrating failure, and by rapidly gathering up the self-awareness and learning which comes with failure, we open up new possibilities around change and flexibility that are simply not available otherwise. We welcome in unexpected consequences, put up less resistance and move faster in response to Black Swans, we learn and change personally more constantly. None of which is possible if our posture is of ‘I’m already perfect’.
2. Organisational factors
Now having explored some of the personal factors, let’s look at the organisational traits and areas where change velocity can be driven from and what that can achieve.
At a recent conference I was speaking at, a panellist on just before me from a national train company who works in PR described the challenges they have in today’s connected world when there is a crisis in their rail operation (for example if a train gets derailed).
He said ‘ten years ago we had 2 hours to get a handle on what had happened and prepare to brief the media, five years ago with the mainstream adoption of the mobile phone that dropped to 20 minutes, now – with smartphones, picture messaging, Twitter and Facebook – we have twenty seconds before the world knows more about the crisis than we do’.
This is what is demanded of our organisations today. Pow! Something happens. 20 seconds later, the world knows about it. A plane crash landing in the Hudson river, the king of pop Michael Jackson dying, a politician being arrested or an oil company facing an oil spill. You and your team have a buffer of twenty seconds between something happening and it being potentially shared globally and with no friction or cost.
We call this realtime. That is that the lag between what happens and the world knowing about it is ever-closely to realtime – they are nearly the very same. The buffer is al but gone.
We have already looked at how the accelerative role that online platforms are playing not just in the external media, as in this train company and Twitter example, but also in how employees generate feedback for managers in HCL, in how customers innovate continuously for t-shirt company Threadless and for other businesses through the crowdsourcing of Innocentive. The phenomenon of realtime isn’t just a media and external communications thing: the need to be more agile and connected is a whole business thing.
The OODA model
When the American ex-fighter pilot John Boyd developed his OODA model, I wonder whether he saw how broad its use might eventually become. Originally conceived to describe how combat happens between fast jets, the OODA model illustrates that decision-making happens in loops – we make a decision, see what impact that has, make another decision, see what impact that then has and so on. Here’s what OODA stands for:
• Observe – what is going on in the environment around me?
• Orient – what is my place in that environment, where am I in relation to everything else?
• Decide – given all of that, what shall I do as my next step?
• Act – implementing the decision
And repeat. So one thing to like about OODA is its iterative nature. That alone suits this organisational environment that we are exploring here where change is constant. But the big takeaway from the OODA model is not that decisions are in chains, linked together, all part of a constant process of decision-making. The big takeaway of the model is actually that the faster you can go through the OODA loop, the more likely you are to win.
Hold on a sec, you say. Perhaps fast decision-making isn’t the only thing that leads to winning in business or in combat or in policy-making! Maybe the best decision wins, and we should emphasise putting time and thought into patiently crafting the best decision? That may be true. For me, though, the shift to thinking in a OODA mode is that we are no longer seeking ‘the single best decision for all time’ – we are instead freed up to make a whole series of ‘the best decision right now’ choices. As a result the stakes are actually lowered. In the OODA mode we are shifted from thinking mode into doing mode, and we move from planning and considering into actively learning more about works and what doesn’t work. To me this is intuitively the absolutely right for a world of volatility and ever-present change.
Ready, Fire, Aim, Agile Development & Always in Beta
Other people, like the brilliantly challenging management thinker Tom Peters, have characterised and long-promoted this same shift in decision-making from ‘Ready, Aim, Fire!’ to ‘Ready, Fire!, Aim’. And in software development and in entrepreneurial start-ups (of any kind), this emphasis has been gaining momentum steadily.
A start-up founder knows that the speed her team can move at is one of her few advantages against the big players, and knows that – with a limited pile (or indeed no) cash – the best thing she can do is drive her business to move quickly.
Similarly, an experienced software engineer knows that the lowest-risk approach to hitting his deadline and shipping some high-quality code may not be by working to a carefully developed and endlessly detailed plan, but instead by breaking down the whole project into a series of ‘sprints’, chunking the whole development into much smaller batches, and then re-prioritising the next steps every two weeks. This Agile approach to software development has gained in momentum over the past decade and at its very core is the philosophy that things will and always do change during the project – both in the environment and in the development team and client’s learning – and that harnessing that change is the key to success. There is nothing more demoralising than following a 12 month plan that is already out of date in week 3: Agile software development recognises this and flips traditional linear approaches project management on their head.
The good news is that Agile as a project management approach has been leaking out of its homeland of software development into many other organisational silos and into government too. Project owners, managers and teams are voting with their feet – an agile approach makes sense in the 21st century.
So what happens when we take these increasingly trendy approaches into business? We shift from ‘perfectly planned’ to ‘always learning’ or perhaps ‘Beta’. Beta is another term borrowed from the world of software development – the Alpha version is the shaky first prototype of a new web service or technology, the Beta version the next iteration with some of the most obvious glitches fixed, still incomplete but ready to share with a wider group of people for testing in the real world.
Being in Beta has since become as much an attitude as a formal state: Google’s Gmail was in Beta for years and had millions of daily active users! Since late 2009 the financial mobile payment startup Square has signed up 1m retailers by offering an innovative mobile approach to handling financial payments that has entirely caught traditional financial services providers off guard. I’m sure that Square changes every day, if not every week. Always in Beta has become a slogan for an OODA-like attitude that says ‘this web app / restaurant / teaching curriculum is never going to be complete – it will always be tweaked, improved and iterated’.
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