The world changed here

It was a short movie, only about 6 minutes long, but the title and the story of transformation reminded me of people in the WOL Community.

I saw “The World Changed Here” at Niagara Falls State Park, where I visited last week with family and friends. In the mid-1800s, the land surrounding the Falls was privately owned, mostly by companies using the fast-flowing water to power their mills. Public access was limited, and it looked like this.

Source: Image from “Review of reviews and world’s work” (1890) p. 451.

A landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted (perhaps best known for designing Central Park in New York City), began to advocate for the preservation of the Falls in the 1860s. Others joined him, and in time there were publicity campaigns using the social media of the time: newspapers and parades. Word spread, and a movement formed that gained the attention of the government. In 1883, Niagara Falls State Park became the first state park in the US. 

Today, the falls are breathtakingly beautiful. It’s home to 300 species of birds, and more 30 million people connect with nature there each year. There’s still commerce, but it’s in concert with the natural beauty and wonder of the Falls, and now it looks like this.

Niagara Falls - 2019

There are now more than 10,000 state parks in the US, all made possible by a few people who cared, inspired others, and banded together to make a difference. That’s the connection I made to people in the WOL Community, people like Ulrike Poppe. 

Ulrike enjoyed her WOL Circle and wanted to spread more of them. (She is the first-ever person to buy the Video Guides & Circle Journal.) So she decided to approach Human Resources. Nervous about the presentation, she reached out to the WOL community for help, and proudly announced when she got the company support she sought. 

I have the good fortune to connect with more and more people who dare to make work and life better. Some of them are just taking a first step, some are organizing meet-ups and other events, and and others are trying to expand their movement from dozens to hundreds to thousands.

Not all of them will lead a transformational change, of course. But there is beauty and power in the attempt, and I am inspired by all who have the courage to act. It is because of people like them we can say, “The world changed here.”




The prospect of premature death didn’t make me change so I tried this instead

The Lipitor I no longer need“Take this pill, every day, for the rest of your life,” my doctor said. I sighed at this obvious sign of decline, envisioning the 7-day pillbox that all old people seem to have. “Already?” I asked. Approaching 40 years old, I was overweight, stressed, and didn’t exercise. My medical history wasn’t great either, my dad having died of a massive heart attack and my mother having suffered from diabetes.

I knew I was killing myself slowly. But the specter of the many changes I needed to make was too overwhelming. I couldn’t face all of it for the sake of some still-distant benefit. So I just kept doing what I was doing.

Yet 10 years later, I’m back to the weight I was in high school, eliminated most of my harmful stresses, and my doctor says I don’t need that pill any more.

Here's what worked for me. Whatever your goal, I hope it helps you make the changes you want to make.

Food as metaphor

What I thought I wanted was just a habitPart of my problem was ignorance. I simply didn’t know what was in the food I was eating, where it came from, and what it was doing to me.

But the bigger problem was the set of habits I had developed. That bacon, egg, and cheese on a bagel was like an old, familiar friend I’d see every day. So too was the hamburger with fries, the Chinese food takeout, the slumping on the couch watching TV after a long commute from a stressful job.

Although I knew it wasn’t good, it was what I knew. It also seemed to be what everyone around me was doing. Only now do I understand how much our habits and our environment shape so many aspects of our lives.

Change at work

Verbal persuasion isn't enoughIn my job, I’ve spent years showing people how their way of working was bad for them and for the firm. The pointless meetings. The armies of people processing emails. The ludicrous HR policies and systems. This is the fast food clogging the arteries of corporations.

I pointed out better ways, gave them examples, and they still didn’t change! “What’s wrong with these people?” I would think to myself. But nothing was wrong. I had only to look at my own behavior to see how difficult change is. After all, if verbal persuasion was enough then people wouldn’t buy so many packs of cigarettes with “Smoking kills” pasted on them.

The only thing that worked

There was no single thing that made the most difference for me. It was a combination of things that I learned and applied gradually over time. A few months ago, I found that much of the wisdom and research I discovered in a decade of reading self-help books was distilled into a simple, practical list in Coach Yourself. This short list summarizes the basic approach towards changing anything in your life.

  • Take small steps towards your goals
  • Set some realistic, achievable goals
  • Structure your life to help you attain your goals
  • Allow yourself to fail sometimes without turning it into a catastrophe
  • Look at the areas where you’re successful
  • Reward yourself for your successes
  • Focus on your achievements
  • Enlist the support of friends
  • Chart your progress
  • Picture the way you’d like life to be

Where my previous attempts at change failed, it was because I attempted too big a change too quickly, overreacted to my failures, lacked peer support, or missed some other element on this simple list.

The next small step

As I wrote this I reflected on what I did and ate yesterday. My day started with meditation. Then I walked to work, ate a wide range of scrumptious vegetarian meals, had a cold-pressed green juice for a snack. I even went to yoga with my wife, something I hope will be my newest habit.

10 years ago, I couldn’t imagine such a set of changes. But each small change empowered me to do a little more. This process led to a new career, writing a book, and creating a  “guided mastery” coaching program that helps people change their own work and life.

Of course, what’s right for me may be wildly different than what’s right for you. The path you take will also be different. But for most of us the change begins with a small, simple step.

What will yours be?

 

Touching the treadmill

Why? Are there things you want to get better at but haven’t made much progress?

Here are a few from my life list:

  • Play the piano
  • Speak another language
  • Dance ballroom-style
  • Do yoga (and have the lean, flexible body that comes with it)

Some of these learning goals have been on my list for decades, and I haven’t gotten very far.

Yet I’m optimistic that I’ll do all of these soon because I recently discovered a simple trick that’s changed how I think about change. Maybe it can help you, too.

“Touch the treadmill”

Getting started

As a life coach, Martha Beck routinely works with people who have personal development goals but feel unable to make meaningful progress.

“I want to get in shape”, for example, is a common goal. But that seemingly simple, practical goal can be problematic for several reasons. We may have negative associations with the effort required to get in shape. (“Ugh. I hate exercise.”) We may not believe we’re capable. (“I’m not an exercise person.”) We may not have the knowledge or the environment we need. (“I just don’t have the time!”)

Any of these is enough to stop us from making much progress. Combined, you won’t get off the couch. What Martha Beck taught me was to break down the goal and begin with a small step so simple that it verges on ridiculous.

Can’t go for a run 4 times a week for an hour? Try once a week. Still too much? Go for 5 minutes. Not working for you? Walk to the treadmill and touch it. Every day.

Martha’s 2013 New Year’s resolution wasn’t “Get in Shape” but “go out to the barn where the exercise equipment is sitting and go touch it.”  Here’s a 23-second video of her fulfilling that resolution. Success!

Why it works

What the brain sees when it sees change

While touching the treadmill won’t improve your cardio-vascular function, it will make it possible to bypass your hard-wired aversion to change.

In a recent talk at Jiveworld, Dr. Eddie Obeng described change and our reaction to it in evolutionary terms. Early in the history of human beings, major changes were a threat.  When we’d see a saber-toothed tiger, the blood would flow to the base of our brain that regulates our fight-or-flight mechanisms. And the thinking parts would practically shut off.

Even today, when faced with big, audacious goals, our bodies react that same way. Seth Godin refers to it as the “lizard brain”. Steven Pressfield calls it the “resistance”. It's a common and natural reaction to change.

The more evolved part of your brain really does want you to achieve your goals - to develop new capabilities that can make life richer (and longer). But the part of our brains we carry with us from long ago is trying to protect us. So we have to re-frame our goals in ways that make them less scary and don’t activate that fight or flight mechanism.

Re-framing anything

What change could be

Here, for example, is how I’m trying to eliminate the fear and anxiety associated with my own learning goals.

Want to play piano? Sit at the piano and play a scale each day for a minute.

Do yoga? Do the child pose (the easy one that I like) each morning.

Get better at Japanese? Sit with my daughter and do her 1st-grade Japanese homework together.

The basic idea isn't new, of course. It's why we have cliches like "Nothing breeds success like success" and "The hardest part of any journey is the first step".

But for so many of us, we never start. So if you find you're avoiding your goal, keep breaking it down until it’s simple and fear-free - even to the point where it seems ridiculous. By transforming your goals from saber-toothed tiger food into small, achievable steps that are easy and appealing, you'll greatly increase your chances of making progress.

Want to develop a new skill or habit? Touch the treadmill. Change your life.

Touching the treadmill

Are there things you want to get better at but haven’t made much progress?

Here are a few from my life list:

  • Play the piano
  • Speak another language
  • Dance ballroom-style
  • Do yoga (and have the lean, flexible body that comes with it)

Some of these learning goals have been on my list for decades, and I haven’t gotten very far.

Yet I’m optimistic that I’ll do all of these soon because I recently discovered a simple trick that’s changed how I think about change. Maybe it can help you, too.

“Touch the treadmill”

As a life coach, Martha Beck routinely works with people who have personal development goals but feel unable to make meaningful progress.

“I want to get in shape”, for example, is a common goal. But that seemingly simple, practical goal can be problematic for several reasons. We may have negative associations with the effort required to get in shape. (“Ugh. I hate exercise.”) We may not believe we’re capable. (“I’m not an exercise person.”) We may not have the knowledge or the environment we need. (“I just don’t have the time!”)

Any of these is enough to stop us from making much progress. Combined, you won’t get off the couch. What Martha Beck taught me was to break down the goal and begin with a small step so simple that it verges on ridiculous.

Can’t go for a run 4 times a week for an hour? Try once a week. Still too much? Go for 5 minutes. Not working for you? Walk to the treadmill and touch it. Every day.

Martha’s 2013 New Year’s resolution wasn’t “Get in Shape” but “go out to the barn where the exercise equipment is sitting and go touch it.”  Here’s a 23-second video of her fulfilling that resolution. Success!

Why it works

While touching the treadmill won’t improve your cardio-vascular function, it will make it possible to bypass your hard-wired aversion to change.

In a recent talk at Jiveworld, Dr. Eddie Obeng described change and our reaction to it in evolutionary terms. Early in the history of human beings, major changes were a threat.  When we’d see a saber-toothed tiger, the blood would flow to the base of our brain that regulates our fight-or-flight mechanisms. And the thinking parts would practically shut off.

Even today, when faced with big, audacious goals, our bodies react that same way. Seth Godin refers to it as the “lizard brain”. Steven Pressfield calls it the “resistance”. It's a common and natural reaction to change.

The more evolved part of your brain really does want you to achieve your goals - to develop new capabilities that can make life richer (and longer). But the part of our brains we carry with us from long ago is trying to protect us. So we have to re-frame our goals in ways that make them less scary and don’t activate that fight or flight mechanism.

Re-framing anything

Here, for example, is how I’m trying to eliminate the fear and anxiety associated with my own learning goals.

Want to play piano? Sit at the piano and play a scale each day for a minute.

Do yoga? Do the child pose (the easy one that I like) each morning.

Get better at Japanese? Sit with my daughter and do her 1st-grade Japanese homework together.

The basic idea isn't new, of course. It's why we have cliches like "Nothing breeds success like success" and "The hardest part of any journey is the first step".

But for so many of us, we never start. So if you find you're avoiding your goal, keep breaking it down until it’s simple and fear-free - even to the point where it seems ridiculous. By transforming your goals from saber-toothed tiger food into small, achievable steps that are easy and appealing, you'll greatly increase your chances of making progress.

Want to develop a new skill or habit? Touch the treadmill. Change your life.

Touch the treadmill.jpg

5 lessons for driving change from “The Blue Sweater”

The Blue SweaterEvery once in a while you read a book that changes you. That transcends the author and the original story and holds lessons that you can apply to your own work and life, well beyond the context of the book. “The Blue Sweater” by Jacqueline Novogratz is such a book.

It’s a memoir, recounting the experiences of someone who left international banking to found Acumen, a non-profit that’s “changing the way the world tackles poverty”. But whether you’re changing the world or changing your company, the lessons in the book can help you.

Work in the field

Though she was born and raised in the US, most of Jacqueline’s stories take place in deeply impoverished areas in Kenya, Rwanda, Pakistan, and India. There, she worked with local people to create small businesses. To teach people new skills but also to learn from them.

The way she embraced fieldwork reminded me of Dr. Paul Farmer’s approach in Haiti as described in “Mountains Beyond Mountains” when he said Every patient is a sign. Every patient is a test.”

Her stories are often frustrating, and the work is hard and humbling. She failed often. But Jacqueline’s work with individual women is what gave her a deeper understanding of what could work and what couldn’t. 

Embrace locally-driven change

Some of her early failures stemmed from trying to import ideas and practices that made perfect sense in New York but, in the field, proved to be impractical. It was only when she worked with local people to drive change locally that she had both the necessary knowledge and the social infrastructure to make a sustained difference.

Embracing locally-driven change also meant giving up control. It meant that her projects weren’t about her. She had a vision but learned that “no single source of leadership will make it happen”. So she committed to creating a system that would identify others who could lead and provide support for them.

Take a systems approach

Time and again she learned the solution wasn’t just about money. Or training. Or technology. Or some specific social change.

It was about all of those things. Fighting malaria, for example, wasn’t just about giving away mosquito nets. It was about supporting local manufacturing of nets at a price people could afford so there was a sustainable supply. Making sure the nets were easy to use. Coming up with creative new distribution methods. (I liked the image of Tupperware-style parties where local women talked of the nets as status symbols: “The color is beautiful, and you can hang the nets in your windows so the neighbors know how much you care about your family.” )

To drive change, she learned to tap into all six sources of influence. “It’s not ‘either-or’ but rather ‘both-and’.”

Learn from doing

When she was just beginning Acumen, she had enough funding but was so focused on planning and ensuring things succeeded that she didn’t have enough projects to invest in.

“...we were in a bit of a panic, and a wise CEO of a healthcare company gave me advice I will never forget. ‘Just start,’ he said. ‘Don’t wait for perfection. Just start and let the work teach you. No on expects you to get it right in the very beginning, and you’ll learn more from your mistakes than you will from your early successes anyway. So stop worrying so much and just look at your best bets and go.’”

That didn’t mean she was less careful or meticulous. Just that she learned the importance of  getting feedback from customers early and often while iterating and adapting. That was the best way to learning which solutions would actually be useful.

Leverage other people and networks

Despite her formidable energy, her ideas, her training, and her time in the field, she was still humble enough and wise enough to leverage other organizations. She got help from institutions as diverse as The Rockefeller Foundation and local microfinance organizations. She worked with a wide range of local entrepreneurs.

She didn’t feel the need to always create or control. Instead she searched for groups that were already doing good work. Then she looked for ways to invest in them and connect them so they could scale what they were doing and amplify the benefits.

The gift

When Jacqueline was a young girl, her uncle gave her a blue sweater that she cherished. She wore it all the time until, as a freshman in high school, someone poked fun at her. She insisted on giving it away and her mother and her ceremoniously disposed of it at their local thrift shop.

She didn't think about it again until, more than a decade later, in the streets of Kigali, Rwanda, she saw a skinny young boy wearing her sweater. Incredulous, she ran over to him. Unable to speak a language he understood, she simply grabbed him, turned over the collar, and saw her name on the tag. For Jacqueline, the blue sweater became a symbol of how we are all connected. And that changed the course of her life.

I gave a copy of “The Blue Sweater” to my daughter. I wanted to give her that message of connectedness and, even more so, provide her with Jacqueline’s example of how we can think differently - about change, our definition of success, and what a fulfilling life might look like.

“The task now is to discover how far they can take us.”

Where are you heading? We were sitting across the table at a cafe, talking about our current projects, when she asked me one of those easy-to-ask, hard-to-answer questions:

“What’s your mission?”

I talked about making work more effective and fulfilling at my firm and yet, even as I was saying the words, I realized they weren’t enough. They might describe my current work, but is that it? Is that all there is?

This I Believe

Among people who are trying to change their companies, there’s usually a feeling that runs deeper. They’re not just trying to improve a bank or a pharmaceutical company, they’re trying to improve people’s lives. Seeking to restore fairness, diversity, and equality. Hoping to make the world a better place.

If that sounds idealistic, it’s because it is. It’s why collaboration conferences can feel more like religious revivals (or what I imagine those to be like) than groups talking about corporate initiatives, change management, and technology. There’s this collective sense of “We’re on a mission.”

But what mission exactly? In my first post, “This I Believe”, I included ideas about fulfillment and humanizing work, but I’ve struggled to describe the broader sense of purpose that I’ve been feeling.

“I’m a Peer Progressive”

I found the words I was looking for in “Future Perfect”, a book by Steven Johnson (who also wrote “Where Good Ideas Come From” among others). He uses the phrase “peer progressive” to describe people using the power of networks - “webs of human collaboration and exchange” - to drive positive change, including social change. Progress is created by the combination of people networks and by the Internet, which continually "lowers the costs for creating and sharing information."

“To be a peer progressive, then, is to believe that the key to continued progress lies in building peer networks in as many regions of modern life as possible: in education, health care, city neighborhoods, private corporations, and government agencies.

What peer progressives want to see is fundamental change in the social architecture of those institutions, not just a Web strategy.”

He describes a wide range of current examples and future possibilities - from finding and fixing problems to funding innovation; from reducing traffic to reinventing elections. And he purposefully chose such a broad array of examples to show just how many areas of our lives could be rethought and reworked.

“And that is ultimately what being a peer progressive is all about: the belief that new institutions and new social architectures are now available to us in a way that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago, and that our continued progress as a society will come from adopting those institutions in as many facets of modern life as possible.”

First Things First

Last week's post about the difficulties of changing any emergent system was “sobering” and even “depressing” to several people. But, I’m actually more optimistic than ever. While each individual’s attempts may be daunting, even quixotic, I am buoyed by the overall power and potential of peer progressives as a group.

“This is why it is such an interesting and encouraging time to build on these values. We have a theory of peer networks. We have the practice of building them. And we have results. We know that peer networks can work in the real world. The task now is to discover how far they can take us.”

And so, that’s my mission: to apply the theory and practice of peer networks to make the world better.

My particular starting point is inside one large corporation trying to make work there more effective and fulfilling. Then, I hope to do more, to build on that learning - the successes and the failures - to develop other peer networks and “discover how far they can take us”.

“The task now is to discover how far they can take us.”

Where are you heading? We were sitting across the table at a cafe, talking about our current projects, when she asked me one of those easy-to-ask, hard-to-answer questions:

“What’s your mission?”

I talked about making work more effective and fulfilling at my firm and yet, even as I was saying the words, I realized they weren’t enough. They might describe my current work, but is that it? Is that all there is?

This I Believe

Among people who are trying to change their companies, there’s usually a feeling that runs deeper. They’re not just trying to improve a bank or a pharmaceutical company, they’re trying to improve people’s lives. Seeking to restore fairness, diversity, and equality. Hoping to make the world a better place.

If that sounds idealistic, it’s because it is. It’s why collaboration conferences can feel more like religious revivals (or what I imagine those to be like) than groups talking about corporate initiatives, change management, and technology. There’s this collective sense of “We’re on a mission.”

But what mission exactly? In my first post, “This I Believe”, I included ideas about fulfillment and humanizing work, but I’ve struggled to describe the broader sense of purpose that I’ve been feeling.

“I’m a Peer Progressive”

I found the words I was looking for in “Future Perfect”, a book by Steven Johnson (who also wrote “Where Good Ideas Come From” among others). He uses the phrase “peer progressive” to describe people using the power of networks - “webs of human collaboration and exchange” - to drive positive change, including social change. Progress is created by the combination of people networks and by the Internet, which continually "lowers the costs for creating and sharing information."

“To be a peer progressive, then, is to believe that the key to continued progress lies in building peer networks in as many regions of modern life as possible: in education, health care, city neighborhoods, private corporations, and government agencies.

What peer progressives want to see is fundamental change in the social architecture of those institutions, not just a Web strategy.”

He describes a wide range of current examples and future possibilities - from finding and fixing problems to funding innovation; from reducing traffic to reinventing elections. And he purposefully chose such a broad array of examples to show just how many areas of our lives could be rethought and reworked.

“And that is ultimately what being a peer progressive is all about: the belief that new institutions and new social architectures are now available to us in a way that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago, and that our continued progress as a society will come from adopting those institutions in as many facets of modern life as possible.”

First Things First

Last week's post about the difficulties of changing any emergent system was “sobering” and even “depressing” to several people. But, I’m actually more optimistic than ever. While each individual’s attempts may be daunting, even quixotic, I am buoyed by the overall power and potential of peer progressives as a group.

“This is why it is such an interesting and encouraging time to build on these values. We have a theory of peer networks. We have the practice of building them. And we have results. We know that peer networks can work in the real world. The task now is to discover how far they can take us.”

And so, that’s my mission: to apply the theory and practice of peer networks to make the world better.

My particular starting point is inside one large corporation trying to make work there more effective and fulfilling. Then, I hope to do more, to build on that learning - the successes and the failures - to develop other peer networks and “discover how far they can take us”.

If you’re trying to change how your company works, you probably won’t

Impossible odds, and yet...  (AP Photo/Jeff Widener) If you’re trying to make work better, you may be feeling, as Margaret Wheatley writes, “exhausted, overwhelmed, and sometimes despairing even as you paradoxically experience moments of joy, belonging, and greater resolve to do your work.”

You may believe in and like what you do, but you’re under-gunned, under-staffed, and under-appreciated. And the thing you’re trying to change - the corporate machine that has dehumanized work - seems impermeable to change anyway.

Now what?

The management revolution that isn’t 

A recent article in Forbes claims “a veritable revolution in management is under way.”

That’s simply untrue. We’re not even close to changing how companies work. A few select anecdotes and some books on new management approaches don’t add up to much. (It’s like claiming the Occupy Wall Street movement revolutionized financial services. That movement was interesting, maybe even inspiring, but it fell far short of producing meaningful change.)

The revolution in the Forbes article includes the same themes that Deming, Drucker and other management experts wrote about decades ago. If they were alive today - Deming would be 112 and Drucker 103 - they would still be waiting to see many of the changes they prescribed.

What’s happening instead

Of course, there should be a revolution. More and more people talk and write about the benefits and the possibilities and the need. But there’s precious little actual change inside most big companies.

What’s happening instead is the near-extinction of the people inside large companies who are trying to change things. Not the pundits but the people leading change from the inside who know the processes, systems, and the culture of their firms and how to do the long, hard work of changing them.

Instead of such people becoming more powerful and more numerous, they’re getting crushed by the machines they’re trying to change. Some change leaders work in an unstable environment and lose their jobs in re-organizations. Others find the environment so hostile, they leave to join consulting firms or technology vendors.

Last week, I was in a room full of senior people whose missions were changing how our respective firms work. They were true experts and some were fantastic brand ambassadors for their firms. Yet, as we described our goals, our running joke was that one objective was simply to keep our jobs.

So many reasons to give up...

Even those who are doing the best work and who have the most experience are keenly aware they’re not driving the kind of change they want as quickly as they want. They’re still daunted by the tremendous challenges they face - cultural, legal, technical, political, organizational.

It’s not because they've misread the potential for change or because the technology isn’t good enough or anything like that. It’s because it’s still early. Because, collectively, we still don’t know enough about how to change these complex organizations, their people, and their deep-rutted ways of working. Because the corporate antibodies come out in force to attack anything that threatens the status quo.

Because it will take a long time, if ever, to realize the possibilities we see.

...and yet to persevere

Margaret Wheatley’s “So Far From Home” describes the challenges facing people trying to change complex, emergent systems like corporations. There are some beautiful passages about persevering in the face of those challenges - not for the ultimate outcomes (e.g., management revolution) but for the goodness of the work itself, for the people involved, and for the chance, however slim, of ultimately creating a better future.

“We need to continue to persevere in our radical work, experimenting with how we can work and live together to evoke human creativity and caring. Only time will tell if our efforts contribute to a better future. We can’t know this, and we can’t base our work or find our motivation from expecting to change this world.”

“If we choose to be warriors, we will find ourselves struggling day to day to be wise and compassionate as we work inside the collapsing corridors of power. We have to expect a life of constant challenge, rejection, invisibility, and loneliness. So it’s important to contemplate how much faith you have in people, because this is what gives you courage and the ability to persevere.”

People, indeed, are the key to surviving the vicissitudes of working on something you know to be good and right but which might very well fail, at least for you and your firm.

To fortify your resolve, seek out the people in your firm whose work and life are better as a result of your efforts. To help you be more effective, reach out to those leading change at other firms - not just to commiserate but to collaborate on solving common problems that slow your progress. Give generously to other change leaders who are just getting started. Extend your networks so that others in trouble have a safety net.

If you’re trying to change your company, you probably won’t. But draw on your connections with other people to give you "the courage and the ability to persevere." And never, never give up.

 

 

 

If you’re trying to change how your company works, you probably won’t

Impossible odds, and yet...  (AP Photo/Jeff Widener) If you’re trying to make work better, you may be feeling, as Margaret Wheatley writes, “exhausted, overwhelmed, and sometimes despairing even as you paradoxically experience moments of joy, belonging, and greater resolve to do your work.”

You may believe in and like what you do, but you’re under-gunned, under-staffed, and under-appreciated. And the thing you’re trying to change - the corporate machine that has dehumanized work - seems impermeable to change anyway.

Now what?

The management revolution that isn’t 

A recent article in Forbes claims “a veritable revolution in management is under way.”

That’s simply untrue. We’re not even close to changing how companies work. A few select anecdotes and some books on new management approaches don’t add up to much. (It’s like claiming the Occupy Wall Street movement revolutionized financial services. That movement was interesting, maybe even inspiring, but it fell far short of producing meaningful change.)

The revolution in the Forbes article includes the same themes that Deming, Drucker and other management experts wrote about decades ago. If they were alive today - Deming would be 112 and Drucker 103 - they would still be waiting to see many of the changes they prescribed.

What’s happening instead

Of course, there should be a revolution. More and more people talk and write about the benefits and the possibilities and the need. But there’s precious little actual change inside most big companies.

What’s happening instead is the near-extinction of the people inside large companies who are trying to change things. Not the pundits but the people leading change from the inside who know the processes, systems, and the culture of their firms and how to do the long, hard work of changing them.

Instead of such people becoming more powerful and more numerous, they’re getting crushed by the machines they’re trying to change. Some change leaders work in an unstable environment and lose their jobs in re-organizations. Others find the environment so hostile, they leave to join consulting firms or technology vendors.

Last week, I was in a room full of senior people whose missions were changing how our respective firms work. They were true experts and some were fantastic brand ambassadors for their firms. Yet, as we described our goals, our running joke was that one objective was simply to keep our jobs.

So many reasons to give up...

Even those who are doing the best work and who have the most experience are keenly aware they’re not driving the kind of change they want as quickly as they want. They’re still daunted by the tremendous challenges they face - cultural, legal, technical, political, organizational.

It’s not because they've misread the potential for change or because the technology isn’t good enough or anything like that. It’s because it’s still early. Because, collectively, we still don’t know enough about how to change these complex organizations, their people, and their deep-rutted ways of working. Because the corporate antibodies come out in force to attack anything that threatens the status quo.

Because it will take a long time, if ever, to realize the possibilities we see.

...and yet to persevere

Margaret Wheatley’s “So Far From Home” describes the challenges facing people trying to change complex, emergent systems like corporations. There are some beautiful passages about persevering in the face of those challenges - not for the ultimate outcomes (e.g., management revolution) but for the goodness of the work itself, for the people involved, and for the chance, however slim, of ultimately creating a better future.

“We need to continue to persevere in our radical work, experimenting with how we can work and live together to evoke human creativity and caring. Only time will tell if our efforts contribute to a better future. We can’t know this, and we can’t base our work or find our motivation from expecting to change this world.”

“If we choose to be warriors, we will find ourselves struggling day to day to be wise and compassionate as we work inside the collapsing corridors of power. We have to expect a life of constant challenge, rejection, invisibility, and loneliness. So it’s important to contemplate how much faith you have in people, because this is what gives you courage and the ability to persevere.”

People, indeed, are the key to surviving the vicissitudes of working on something you know to be good and right but which might very well fail, at least for you and your firm.

To fortify your resolve, seek out the people in your firm whose work and life are better as a result of your efforts. To help you be more effective, reach out to those leading change at other firms - not just to commiserate but to collaborate on solving common problems that slow your progress. Give generously to other change leaders who are just getting started. Extend your networks so that others in trouble have a safety net.

If you’re trying to change your company, you probably won’t. But draw on your connections with other people to give you "the courage and the ability to persevere." And never, never give up.

 

 

 

A Genius Bar in every building

Over the past few months, I’ve written about using social tools and practices to save money, about a framework for influencing behavior, and about applying the Fun Theory at work. Today, I want to describe a project I’m working on to show how you can tie all those ideas together, unlocking value and enthusiasm even for mundane corporate goals.

The mundane corporate goal

One way firms can save money is by having people use their own mobile device instead of corporate-owned Blackberries. (Usually referred to as BYOD or Bring Your Own Device.) In a large firm, there could be many thousands of corporate mobiles and the costs could easily be tens of millions every year.

But how would you get people to use their own device instead?

What your firm might normally do

One way to change behavior

Normally, you would just change the policy: “We will no longer issue devices or reimburse employees for mobile expenses.”

You’d still want employees to have mobile access to work, though. So you might accompany your policy change with an awareness campaign, making sure everyone knew about the change and asking for their cooperation.

A different approach: A Genius Bar in every building

Changes to policy are powerful and raising awareness is important. But you can get better results - and do less damage to employee engagement - with an approach that taps into all of the 6 sources of influence described in “Influencer” by Kerry Patterson et al.

Genius!

So we decided to try something different and more positive. We noticed how many people loved using their iPad for work once they got it set up and how they were often eager to help others. What if we could somehow connect those people and form a social movement that drove adoption while reducing costs?

“A Genius Bar in every building” started as a blog post on our social collaboration platform. It described how local volunteers could staff pop-up Genius Bars and help people set up their iPhones and iPads. Over the next few days, others contributed ideas and offered to volunteer. Soon, we had organized our first 2 events.

The initial events weren’t smooth or professional, but we learned a lot. And we were struck by how grateful everyone was. (“Thank you so much for doing this!”) Afterwards, one of the volunteers wrote about what could have gone better. Another person wrote down detailed instructions for future events. Someone else started an online sign-up sheet for volunteers in every location.

Now, we have events planned in a growing number of buildings all around the world. People are continuing to contribute suggestions for improving things. And with each event, we create more positive stories, attract more volunteers, and expand the movement.

Applying the Influencer Checklist

Is this all we can do? In using the Influencer checklist, we see the Genius Bars help us in 4 ways:

6 sources of Influence

☑ Personal Ability: Having mobile experts in each lobby makes it convenient for people to enable their devices.

☑ Social motivation: Seeing a crowd gathered around an Apple logo can go a long way to motivate others to join. We also use the social collaboration platform to share stories of how other people at all levels are using their own devices.

☑ Social ability: By crowd-sourcing volunteers, we build up a network of experts who could help people locally and complement the small team of mobile engineers.

☑ Structural ability: A simple physical thing like having a “Blackberry Bin” makes it easier for people to give back their devices.

To tap into all 6 sources of influence, we’ll still need to change the policy to help with structural motivation - e.g. changing the reimbursement policies over time so it becomes increasingly unattractive to use a corporate device. We’re not doing enough to appeal to those who aren’t personally motivated to give up their corporate Blackberry. (Perhaps the “Speed Camera Lottery” from last week’s post might be applicable here.)

We have a choice

The point is that even for something as mundane as reducing mobile costs at work, we have a choice:

We can rely on crude carrots and sticks to change behavior.

Or we can care.

Care about the people affected. Care about producing more sustainable results. Care enough to try something different so we can make work more effective and more fulfilling.