The doctor at the fast food convention

Really? Can you imagine being a doctor at a fast food convention, trying to change the way people eat? Even if the attendees know the food is bad for them, they’ll be surrounded by it and by other people who eagerly eat it, so they'll eat it too.

To try to help them, you’ll race around frantically, telling them about the benefits of eating right and exercising. Some will nod their heads. “Yes, we really should.” Then they’ll go back to doing what they usually do.

That’s what it can feel like when you talk about making work better in large companies.

Most people know there are better ways of working. They know their daily practices aren’t good for them. They know they’re not engaged. But for most of them it just feels too difficult to change.

So what do you do? Give up on all those unfulfilled people?

The Work Revolution Summit

Yesterday, I was fortunate to be admitted to the Work Revolution Summit where I could  “join leading entrepreneurs, startup investors, futurists, organizational designers, and technology experts to fundamentally re-design the way we work.”

theworkrevolution

One of the organizers was Jessica Lawrence, who is both former CEO of the Girl Scouts and organizer of the NY Tech Meetup for entrepreneurs. One of the objectives of the summit was to help start-ups maintain “a ‘human’ company culture that helps both the employees and the company reach their full potential as the organization grows and scales.” And Jessica gave a fascinating talk about trying to change the culture while she was CEO.

There were several other great speakers, including Seth Godin. And I got to ask him a question about what to do when your are, in essence, a doctor at the fast food convention.

A question for Seth Godin

Seth GodinSeth Godin’s daily blog has done more to change how I approach work than anything else. And each time I hear him speak, I’m inspired to do more. This time, I had the chance the to ask him “What do you do when you’re preaching change and and it seems like only a small minority is interested in actually changing?”

He told me something that I know is right but I’ve had trouble putting into practice. Don’t preach to everybody. Don’t try to reach everybody. Many people are simply trying to hold onto their job and it's too scary/hard/uncomfortable for them to do something different. Instead, find the people who are ready and eager for change. Connect them to build a tribe who wants to change. And equip and empower that tribe to extend the movement (giving them credit and control when they do).

A shift in tactics

The first NYC Marathon in 1970

I was 6 years old when the first NYC Marathon took place in 1970. Only 127 people ran that race. Only 55 finished. And about 100 people watched. No one I knew heard of it. No one I knew ran at all. At the time, running a marathon seemed ridiculous.

41 years later, almost 47,000 people finished and almost 2 million people lined up along the route. It’s become the largest marathon anywhere in the world. And even I completed one.

Running marathons didn’t spread because Fred Lebow, the original organizer, went around telling everyone about the benefits of running. Instead, all 6 sources of influence came into play. Over time, there was more help to get you started and more motivation at the personal, social, and structural levels. More running books, more equipment, more races, more clubs, more visible rewards.  Over the course of a generation, more and more people just did it.

Growth of a tribe

So of course changing how people work isn’t simply about telling people. We’ll have to keep making it easier to work out loud. Keep writing about it and teaching it. Keep connecting advocates and equipping them to extend their own networks.

Just now, I joined the work revolution where I pledged "I will do whatever I can within my sphere of influence to promote workplaces that are profoundly human and deeply meaningful."

It may take a generation, but we need to keep running.

The doctor at the fast food convention

Really? Can you imagine being a doctor at a fast food convention, trying to change the way people eat? Even if the attendees know the food is bad for them, they’ll be surrounded by it and by other people who eagerly eat it, so they'll eat it too.

To try to help them, you’ll race around frantically, telling them about the benefits of eating right and exercising. Some will nod their heads. “Yes, we really should.” Then they’ll go back to doing what they usually do.

That’s what it can feel like when you talk about making work better in large companies.

Most people know there are better ways of working. They know their daily practices aren’t good for them. They know they’re not engaged. But for most of them it just feels too difficult to change.

So what do you do? Give up on all those unfulfilled people?

The Work Revolution Summit

Yesterday, I was fortunate to be admitted to the Work Revolution Summit where I could  “join leading entrepreneurs, startup investors, futurists, organizational designers, and technology experts to fundamentally re-design the way we work.”

theworkrevolution

One of the organizers was Jessica Lawrence, who is both former CEO of the Girl Scouts and organizer of the NY Tech Meetup for entrepreneurs. One of the objectives of the summit was to help start-ups maintain “a ‘human’ company culture that helps both the employees and the company reach their full potential as the organization grows and scales.” And Jessica gave a fascinating talk about trying to change the culture while she was CEO.

There were several other great speakers, including Seth Godin. And I got to ask him a question about what to do when your are, in essence, a doctor at the fast food convention.

A question for Seth Godin

Seth GodinSeth Godin’s daily blog has done more to change how I approach work than anything else. And each time I hear him speak, I’m inspired to do more. This time, I had the chance the to ask him “What do you do when you’re preaching change and and it seems like only a small minority is interested in actually changing?”

He told me something that I know is right but I’ve had trouble putting into practice. Don’t preach to everybody. Don’t try to reach everybody. Many people are simply trying to hold onto their job and it's too scary/hard/uncomfortable for them to do something different. Instead, find the people who are ready and eager for change. Connect them to build a tribe who wants to change. And equip and empower that tribe to extend the movement (giving them credit and control when they do).

A shift in tactics

The first NYC Marathon in 1970

I was 6 years old when the first NYC Marathon took place in 1970. Only 127 people ran that race. Only 55 finished. And about 100 people watched. No one I knew heard of it. No one I knew ran at all. At the time, running a marathon seemed ridiculous.

41 years later, almost 47,000 people finished and almost 2 million people lined up along the route. It’s become the largest marathon anywhere in the world. And even I completed one.

Running marathons didn’t spread because Fred Lebow, the original organizer, went around telling everyone about the benefits of running. Instead, all 6 sources of influence came into play. Over time, there was more help to get you started and more motivation at the personal, social, and structural levels. More running books, more equipment, more races, more clubs, more visible rewards.  Over the course of a generation, more and more people just did it.

Growth of a tribe

So of course changing how people work isn’t simply about telling people. We’ll have to keep making it easier to work out loud. Keep writing about it and teaching it. Keep connecting advocates and equipping them to extend their own networks.

Just now, I joined the work revolution where I pledged "I will do whatever I can within my sphere of influence to promote workplaces that are profoundly human and deeply meaningful."

It may take a generation, but we need to keep running.

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.

 

 

 

The Influencer checklist

InfluencerImagine it’s 1986 and you’re responsible for eradicating the Guinea worm, a parasite that afflicts 3.5 million people across 20 countries, has been around for over 2000 years, and for which there is no vaccine or medical treatment. The only way to stop the worm is to change a few specific behaviors - for everyone. What would you do?

If it’s difficult to change one person’s behavior, even your own, then changing millions seems impossible. Yet, in 2009, there were only 3000 cases of Guinea worm infestation - a reduction of 99.9%.

It turns out the approach used to drive that kind of change - to influence behavior at a large scale - has also been used to help 14,000 felons be successfully employed, to reduce AIDS in Thailand, to improve service quality, and even to lose weight.

And now I’m using it to help people make work more effective and more fulfilling.

6 sources of Influence 

6 sources of Influence

The approach comes from “Influencer” by Kerry Patterson, et al. This remarkable book combines the science of changing individual behavior, techniques for making those changes stick, and stories of global change movements involving thousands of individuals. (In doing so, it complements other great books on change like “The Willpower Instinct”, “Switch”, and “The Dragonfly Effect”.)

If you’re like me, your change efforts focus on raising awareness. Maybe on rewards and even penalties. But “Influencer” describes how to tap into 6 very different sources of influence to change specific “vital behaviors”  (also known as “keystone habits”).

“Motivation and ability comprise the first two domains of our model. We further subdivide these two domains into personal, social, and structural sources. These three sources of influence reflect separate and highly developed literatures - psychology, social psychology, and organization theory. By exploring all three, we ensure that we draw our strategies from the known repertoire of influence techniques.”

They’re very clear that “verbal persuasion rarely works” despite being the most common tool we use. Instead, when it comes to altering behavior, you need to help others answer just two questions: “Will it be worth it?” and “Can I do it?” And, in answering them, you need to examine all three levels.

The checklist

At work, we’re using these 6 sources as a checklist. As we try to help thousands of people work out loud (or print less, or use their own mobile phone, or contribute to any of the  collective efficiency programs we have underway), we keep asking ourselves if we’re tapping into all 6 sources of influence.

Personal motivation: If people don’t find the behavior appealing, how can we get them to try it (or at least have them experience the benefits vicariously) and connect it to other things they value? If someone likes doing it, how can we reinforce the behavior by recognizing their accomplishments and encouraging them to do more?

Personal Ability: How can we make it simpler to start? And how can we provide people with opportunities to practice the behavior and attain achievable goals while giving them immediate feedback on ways to get even better?

Social motivation: Who are influential leaders who can model the vital behavior? And can we identify relevant peer groups who are already behaving in the desired way?

Social ability: How can we develop social ties - e.g., buddy systems, peer support groups, advocate programs -  that can help an individual get better at the vital behavior?

Structural motivation: What are extrinsic rewards we can put in place that are immediate, gratifying, and clearly tied to the vital behavior? (Only consider these rewards after intrinsic motivators and social support are in place.)

Structural ability: How can we change the physical environment to make the vital behavior easier or to eliminate the things that pose a risk to that behavior?

The early results

In using the Influencer approach to help tens of thousands of people change how they work, it’s already helped us narrow our focus. Instead of trying to change a wide variety of activities, we’re focusing on working out loud as a specific vital behavior. And by using the Influencer checklist, we’ve uncovered gaps in our approach, expanded our thinking about how to change behavior, and come up with a wider array of more creative methods.

It’s tempting to think we already know what we’re doing. That our judgment is good enough. Or that we can cherry-pick a select few of the possible influence methods available to us. But “Influencer” repeatedly stresses that successful change agents overdetermine their success by using every influence tool available.

As Atul Gawande showed us in “Checklist Manifesto”, professionals as different as surgeons, pilots, and construction workers all benefit from checklists to make sure they take full advantage of methods already known to work.

Now, as aspiring Influencers, we have our own checklist.

The Influencer checklist

Influencer

Influencer

Imagine it’s 1986 and you’re responsible for eradicating the Guinea worm, a parasite that afflicts 3.5 million people across 20 countries, has been around for over 2000 years, and for which there is no vaccine or medical treatment. The only way to stop the worm is to change a few specific behaviors - for everyone. What would you do?

If it’s difficult to change one person’s behavior, even your own, then changing millions seems impossible. Yet, in 2009, there were only 3000 cases of Guinea worm infestation - a reduction of 99.9%.

It turns out the approach used to drive that kind of change - to influence behavior at a large scale - has also been used to help 14,000 felons be successfully employed, to reduce AIDS in Thailand, to improve service quality, and even to lose weight.

And now I’m using it to help people make work more effective and more fulfilling.

6 sources of Influence 

6 sources of Influence

6 sources of Influence

The approach comes from “Influencer” by Kerry Patterson, et al. This remarkable book combines the science of changing individual behavior, techniques for making those changes stick, and stories of global change movements involving thousands of individuals. (In doing so, it complements other great books on change like “The Willpower Instinct”, “Switch”, and “The Dragonfly Effect”.)

If you’re like me, your change efforts focus on raising awareness. Maybe on rewards and even penalties. But “Influencer” describes how to tap into 6 very different sources of influence to change specific “vital behaviors”  (also known as “keystone habits”).

“Motivation and ability comprise the first two domains of our model. We further subdivide these two domains into personal, social, and structural sources. These three sources of influence reflect separate and highly developed literatures - psychology, social psychology, and organization theory. By exploring all three, we ensure that we draw our strategies from the known repertoire of influence techniques.”

They’re very clear that “verbal persuasion rarely works” despite being the most common tool we use. Instead, when it comes to altering behavior, you need to help others answer just two questions: “Will it be worth it?” and “Can I do it?” And, in answering them, you need to examine all three levels.

The checklist

At work, we’re using these 6 sources as a checklist. As we try to help thousands of people work out loud (or print less, or use their own mobile phone, or contribute to any of the  collective efficiency programs we have underway), we keep asking ourselves if we’re tapping into all 6 sources of influence.

Personal motivation: If people don’t find the behavior appealing, how can we get them to try it (or at least have them experience the benefits vicariously) and connect it to other things they value? If someone likes doing it, how can we reinforce the behavior by recognizing their accomplishments and encouraging them to do more?

Personal Ability: How can we make it simpler to start? And how can we provide people with opportunities to practice the behavior and attain achievable goals while giving them immediate feedback on ways to get even better?

Social motivation: Who are influential leaders who can model the vital behavior? And can we identify relevant peer groups who are already behaving in the desired way?

Social ability: How can we develop social ties - e.g., buddy systems, peer support groups, advocate programs -  that can help an individual get better at the vital behavior?

Structural motivation: What are extrinsic rewards we can put in place that are immediate, gratifying, and clearly tied to the vital behavior? (Only consider these rewards after intrinsic motivators and social support are in place.)

Structural ability: How can we change the physical environment to make the vital behavior easier or to eliminate the things that pose a risk to that behavior?

The early results

In using the Influencer approach to help tens of thousands of people change how they work, it’s already helped us narrow our focus. Instead of trying to change a wide variety of activities, we’re focusing on working out loud as a specific vital behavior. And by using the Influencer checklist, we’ve uncovered gaps in our approach, expanded our thinking about how to change behavior, and come up with a wider array of more creative methods.

It’s tempting to think we already know what we’re doing. That our judgment is good enough. Or that we can cherry-pick a select few of the possible influence methods available to us. But “Influencer” repeatedly stresses that successful change agents overdetermine their success by using every influence tool available.

As Atul Gawande showed us in “Checklist Manifesto”, professionals as different as surgeons, pilots, and construction workers all benefit from checklists to make sure they take full advantage of methods already known to work.

Now, as aspiring Influencers, we have our own checklist.

The perils of privacy in the enterprise

When I show people our collaboration solutions, I talk about the commercial benefits and the possibilities of changing how we work. I describe how people can now shape their reputation through on-line, public contribution and unlock access to opportunities.

Eyes shine. Heads nod.

And one of the first questions, invariably, is:

“How can I restrict who sees it?”

Who “needs to know”?

In large firms, particularly regulated firms, there are laws that restrict who can see what. So the ability to restrict access must be a part of any collaboration solution.

The issue arises when we over-use that ability.

Simply put, the vast majority of the work people do can and should be shared openly.

Here’s a quote from the commission that investigated 9/11, decrying the “need to know” policy at the CIA:

“The biggest impediment to all-source analysis…is the human or systemic resistance to sharing information…. [The ‘need to know’] system implicitly assumes that the risk of inadvertent disclosure outweighs the benefits of wider sharing. Those Cold War assumptions are no longer appropriate.” - The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, (WW Norton: New York, 2002), 416-17.

3 extraordinary costs of privacy

It’s not that “information wants to be free.” (If you’re discussing a potential acquisition or an employee relations issue, then you need to limit who participates in those discussions.)

It’s that restrictions have a cost. And these costs should be considered before you restrict anything. Here are just 3 examples.

Cost of missed opportunities 

The book “If only we knew what we know” describes at length the costs of barriers to internal knowledge transfer. (The title was inspired by a quote from HP’s CEO, Lew Platt, in 1993: "If only HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive.”)

Common corporate slogans like “Deliver the firm” all embrace connecting different parts of the firm to deliver extra value for the customer. But it’s hard to connect the dots if the dots are hidden.

Cost of administering entitlements

Every restriction is an explicit rule that must be maintained. As organizations churn and needs change, those rules have to be updated, imposing an administrative burden on the firm. Even worse, given the complexity of some rules, that burden may fall on highly-skilled people.

Cost of information leakage 

While controls may help prevent leakage, they work only up to a point. Complexity is the enemy of good governance. And a complex web of entitlements, difficult to maintain, will ultimately lead employees to use more convenient - and less secure - ways of sharing information.

Start by being open

What bedevils many social business efforts is the “implicit assumption” described by the 9/11 Commission: that the risk of inadvertent disclosure outweighs the benefits.

In the enterprise, the natural inclination will be to limit access to the information within teams. This, in effect, casts the intranet and firm knowledge in the shape of the org chart.

You have to fight that inclination. The CIA describes their desire for a nuanced approach:

“The 9/11 Commission found great fault with the stovepiping and bureaucratic hoarding of national security information, some of which (in proper hands and at the right time) might have aborted or altered the devastating terrorist assaults in New York, Washington, and in the skies over Pennsylvania in September 2001. The recipe for correction, however, was an overstated, virtually unqualified call for greater sharing of information–an implicit overturning of the prevailing “need to know” culture, one admittedly in need of revision.

The challenge for the IC [Intelligence Community] is to right the balance between finding the appropriate safeguards and compartmentation of information on the one hand, while on the other sustaining candid, analytical reporting from across the world...”

“Balance.” That’s the key word in that quote.

Even the CIA sees the need for balancing openness and restricted sharing - and your firm isn't the CIA.

Before you think about locking things down, consider the costs and consider the alternatives. Start with an open system of sharing information and restrict access only when it’s required or has true business value for the firm.