Category : Organizational change

Lotus Mud

No Mud, No Lotus

My husband and I were hiking in the Orkney Islands and spotted a run-down, Stonehenge-like cluster of rocks on the other side of the expansive field. Rather than try to find a road, which could take hours, we opened the pasture gate and started across the field. Despite the cold rain. Despite the cows and that one big bull who gave us the evil eye.

After about 50 yards we started sinking into the mud. Past our hiking boots, halfway up our shins, soaking our pants. With every step came a loud sucking sound as we pulled our feet out of the mud.

As we slowly, slowly made our way across the field we became discouraged. Was mucking in this rain and mud worth it? What if the stones were just a pile of big rocks and nothing historically significant? Might the field become firmer and less muddy up ahead? Should we turn back? Once we make it to the rock Cairns, how do we get back to the inn? And, oh yeah, are you sure this is just mud and not cow dung, too?

Mucking in mud vs. failing fast

Pursuing a new idea at work usually means a whole lot of uncomfortable mucking about in the mud. And the most effective rebels and change makers at work are both idea people and skilled mud sloggers.

While many entrepreneurs urge us to experiment and fail fast, that’s not realistic when you’re trying to create change inside a big company, government agency, hospital or school system. Things just don’t move at start-up speed, and failure is rarely looked upon as a badge of honor.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist spiritual leader, has said, “No mud, no lotus.” Without suffering through the mud, you cannot find the happiness of the lotus. Without grit, there is no pearl. He also believes that when we know how to suffer, we suffer less.

When we’re creating change there will be mud and all its discomfort and messiness. Perhaps this is a more useful wisdom than “fail fast” for those creating change inside of big organizations.

Of course we all yearn for for predictability, and faster if not instant-gratification. It would be nice to fail fast because we would minimize the duration of the “making something new work” suffering.

Creating change requires doing the homework, building alliances, forming a realistic picture of what’s possible, standing up to the naysayers, and steadfastly moving forward, planning the next step and the one after that. Many days sinking up to our knees in mud, others restraining ourselves from angrily tossing cow flaps at people who resist what we’re trying to accomplish, and some laughing and commiserating with our co-workers.

Ban the heroes. Together, it’s less uncomfortable

Our relationships with people at work may be the only way to suffer less. The comfort in being able to talk through a problem and have someone listen intently without judgment. The trust in being able to ask difficult questions and get honest answers. The kindness of an unexpected latte on your desk after a tough meeting. The surprise of hearing belly laughter floating above the cubicles.

The optimism from the human spirit lifts the suffering and injects new energy to keep going. Even though you may still be in the mud.

No one person can or should try to be the big idea change hero. We need our co-workers, collaborators, compatriots. They improve on our ideas and help us figure out how to sell it and get it adopted. As importantly, they ease the suffering of that goes with most change efforts.

It took us hours to get across that Scottish field that day, and neither the rain nor the mud ever let up. We did find a magical standing rock formation thousands of years old, and the bath that night was one of the best in my life.


 

This article originally appeared in Forbes on 1/18/15.

Terror in anticipation of bang

Shame on Me (Maybe)

 

This post was anonymously written as part of Blog Secret Santa. There’s a list of all Secret Santa posts, including one written by Lois Kelly, on Santa’s list of 2014 gift posts.


Lois recently wrote a deeply sad blog post about shame. I read it a couple of times, and bookmarked it. Something nagging me…

Tonight I sat down to write my Blog Secret Santa post. I knew I would have to revisit the concept of shame. (Merry Christmas one and all!)

Then two things happened. I read this short message from Simon Terry

“In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.” – Czesław Miłosz

and, I was flicking through the new book by Seth Godin, “…and it’s always your turn.” In it, a quote by Alfred Hitchcock.

“There is no terror in the bang. Only in the anticipation of it.”

I took a photo and appended it to Simon’s post.Terror in anticipation of bang

And now, I link them both to Lois’ post about shame and silence.

Shaming those we work with upsets me as a manager, as a colleague, as a worker. As if there was not already enough discord and discomfort to deal with in the workplace!

And now I see what was nagging me about the idea of shame. It is this:

What if they are talking about me?

I don’t think they are, but what if…what if?

I had a couple of slightly uncomfortable meetings in my team recently. Nothing desperate or sad. They were discussions about the future, and how we get there. They were strategic, and practical. Nothing personal – we get along as a team. But there was enough discord and tension for me to consider: do I know my team well enough? Can I well represent their needs and desires? Have I presumed too much?

I have plenty of self-confidence and assuredness in embracing the changing nature of work. I am a change agent and provocateur, an intrapreneur and disorganizer. I can deal with a lack of certainty, with the ebb and flow of constant change, I embrace a fail-forward approach to work. I cheerlead the team to try! To fail! To keep going! To self-manage!

I always see this as open-mindedness, about creating opportunities for greatness. I care about my team deeply and want them to succeed. But what if…what if instead they feel stymied? What if my SHOUTY cheerleading holds them back? What if they thought / knew that their way – another way – would be a wrong way (in my eyes)?

I would never say any of the sentences Lois listed as symptomatic of the shameful leader… What’s your problem? et al. But what am I implying in my enthusiasm, in my single-minded pursuit of tomorrow’s workplace?

I am questioning whether I really let their voices be heard. I know my listening skills are less than stellar. Does it add up to a culture of bias to my way or the high way? Are they consequently lost or let down (if not shamed)?

There are too many rhetorical questions in this post. Apologies. Of course, like most of my blog content, I am talking and learning out loud. I am thinking: what is the BANG!, the pistol shot of truth that releases all the pent up…STUFF? How do we – me, you, the team – really get to that better workplace tomorrow?

Change agents and rebels at work like Lois are helping me navigate this leadership journey. That is their gift to me. This is a small one in return.

Jonathan

<–This Much We Know.–>

Jerry Garcia, Reluctant Rebel at Workjpeg

Acting without all the answers

Most people who step in to create change are incredibly reluctant to get involved.

Not because we don’t care. But because we realize that what it takes to solve the problem we see requires expertise far beyond what we know. We keep thinking that the experts should see the problem and step in. But when they don’t, we do. It’s pathetic, really, to paraphrase Jerry Garcia. So when should we step in and what is our role?

FAN2005412

The world is fast: an ode to daring work

The world is fast.

Fads.
Technology.
Terrorism.
Viral diseases.
Natural disasters.
Pop-up stores.
Food trucks.
Trending tweets.
Viral videos.
Bull markets.
Bear markets.
Sudden death.
Market crashes
Medical miracles.
ADD.
Random collisions.
Unexpected introductions.
The three a.m. eureka.

We are slow.

Resisting.
Doubting.
Looking for proof.
Seeking certainty.
Denying our yearnings.
Discrediting our hunches.
Waiting for someone else.
Hoping for a hero.
Worrying about mistakes.
Seeing things through a warped lens.
Remembering before.
Longing for the predictable.

Take one step.

Then another.
Skip.
Jump.
Run.
Twirl.
Let go.
Dive in.

Feel the energy.

The wind helping you go faster.
The unusual friendships.
The laughter from the unexpected.

The surprise that you are safe.
The surprise that work is different.
The relief that you are relevant. Running rather than being dragged.

The world is fast and furiously asking us to take our feet off the brakes.

We are all skidding. Take your foot off the brake.

Steer into your work.

Into your life.
Into the world.

 

 

Supergirl

Myths and privileges

 

I hear a lot of stories talking with people about being a Rebel at Work.

Many people are angry at not being heard. Some are sad that their organizations are on a bad downward spiral, with management rallying around what no longer works. Others have checked out of work and checked into being complacent and “just getting the paycheck.”

For a while the complacent ones got to me the most. To go to work every day and not give a rat’s ass just seems like giving up on life itself.

And the cynicism? Scorching. It would be tough to work with someone with that kind of negative mindset.

But the stories that get to me the most are the people who don’t try to change anything because of the CHANGE MYTH. These people have come to believe — or been led to believe — that if you’re going to try to fix problems you need to be some sort of crusading take-no-prisoners, storm the ramparts hero.

You might imagine the type. A confident Steve Jobs wannabe talking about disruption, not backing down, pushing for “go big or go home.” The kind of person who doesn’t worry about failing, whether that means getting fired or quitting to find the next gig.

How did this change maker myth become so ingrained in our culture?

Has the Silicon Valley “failure is good” entrepreneurial spirit been taken as the way things work at work? Are people with good ideas becoming intimidated about stepping up because they are not Steve Jobs wannabes and they are afraid to fail and lose their jobs?

Last week Jen Meyers sent these two tweets that acknowledged the myth and, more importantly, acknowledged the fact that most people making change are doing so thoughtfully within the rules and corporate culture.

Jen Meyers Privilege jpeg

Because that’s how so much change happens. Bit by bit. Working with our co-workers vs. leaping from tall buildings in superhero change-maker capes.

If you’re a disruptor and get fired, your big idea dies. So much for heroism.

Whereas if you get smarter about working within the existing organizational culture, your idea actually has a better chance of happening. And you have a better chance of keeping your job.

(Because if we’re honest like Jen, we know that most of us can’t afford to walk away from our jobs. It’s not that simple.)

So maybe it’s useful to remember that having a good idea is easy. Being able to work with people willing to do the hard work to shepherd that idea through corporate politics, budget conflicts, and the often-messy roll out is a privilege.

*****************************************

PS — note Jen’s apt Twitter handle: @anitheroine. Nice

Train wreck

Train Wrecks

After hearing about the release of “Rebels at Work” next month a friend told me that we should write a prequel called “Train Wrecks.”

“There are so many stories about messes at work that could have been avoided if managers had listened to employees.  It never fails to amaze me at how long managers can deny a problem.”

You don’t have to look far to find train wrecks at work — where good rebels warned that the train was going to go off the rails.

  • Financial train wrecks: How have big banks been able to get away with outrageous behavior, creating rippling financial shitstorms? The New York Fed, the chief U.S. bank regulator, created a culture where raising problems and asking questions was shunned. When Carmen Segarra, one of its regulators assigned to Goldman Sachs, actually went about doing her job — thinking that her and her employer’s  job was to fix the financial system — she got fired.  This September 26, 2014 ProPublica article is a great read about how culture, consensus, and discrediting good rebels have allowed our financial system to become a train wreck: Inside the New York Fed: Secret Recordings and a Culture Clash.
  • Automotive train wrecks: Yesterday General Motors issued its 76th recall of 2014, calling back 7,600 police vehicles because they could roll away when drivers thought they were in park.  Following an internal GM investigation earlier this year,  CEO Mary Barra said, “The lack of action was a result of broad bureaucratic problems and the failure of individual employees in several departments to address a safety problem.… Repeatedly, individuals failed to disclose critical pieces of information that could have fundamentally changed the lives of those impacted by a faulty ignition switch.”  GM knew about the ignition switch safety issue for 10 years before they issued a recall. My guess is that good rebels in GM raised the problems — and their bosses failed to act on that information.
  • Health care train wrecks: As reported by Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit, there were many instances where nurses at Rhode Island Hospital warned surgeons about patient issues and procedures only to be told to shut up.  “If I want your damn  opinion I’ll ask for it. Don’t ever question my authority again,” a doctor said to a nurse who questioned the appropriateness of a surgical procedure. “If you can’t do your job, get the hell out of my OR.”  Only after several reported incidences of surgical errors, like operating on the wrong side of a patient’s head, did the hospital address its corrosive culture, a culture where good rebel nurses were habitually dismissed by surgeons. Talk about a modern day caste system.

Being an optimistic type who likes to create solutions rather than muck around in problems, I’ll probably never write a book about train wrecks.  One reason is that it would a really long book to write.

The real reason, though, is that I think my time is better spent helping positive people inside organizations band together and get their ideas heard before the emerging problems cause real damage. Plenty of researchers, academics, books, and consultants help executives. Not many help employees on the front lines.

It’s time for more of us to support the people who care enough to say,  “Houston, we have a problem.

 

After hearing about the release of “Rebels at Work” next month a friend told me that we should write a prequel called “Train Wrecks.”

“There are so many stories about messes at work that could have been avoided if managers had listened to employees.  It never fails to amaze me at how long managers can deny a problem.”

You don’t have to look far to find train wrecks at work — where good rebels warned that the train was going to go off the rails.

  • Financial train wrecks: How have big banks been able to get away with outrageous behavior, creating rippling financial shitstorms? The New York Fed, the chief U.S. bank regulator, created a culture where raising problems and asking questions was shunned. When Carmen Segarra, one of its regulators assigned to Goldman Sachs, actually went about doing her job — thinking that her and her employer’s  job was to fix the financial system — she got fired.  This September 26, 2014 ProPublica article is a great read about how culture, consensus, and discrediting good rebels have allowed our financial system to become a train wreck: Inside the New York Fed: Secret Recordings and a Culture Clash.
  • Automotive train wrecks: Yesterday General Motors issued its 76th recall of 2014, calling back 7,600 police vehicles because they could roll away when drivers thought they were in park.  Following an internal GM investigation earlier this year,  CEO Mary Barra said, “The lack of action was a result of broad bureaucratic problems and the failure of individual employees in several departments to address a safety problem.… Repeatedly, individuals failed to disclose critical pieces of information that could have fundamentally changed the lives of those impacted by a faulty ignition switch.”  Gm knew about the ignition switch safety issue for 10 years before they issued a recall. My guess is that good rebels in GM raised the problems — and their bosses failed to act on that information.
  • Health care train wrecks: As reported by Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit, there were many instances where nurses at Rhode Island Hospital  warn surgeons about patient issues and procedures only to be told to shut up.  “If I want your damn  opinion I’ll ask for it. Don’t ever question my authority again,” a doctor said to a nurse who questioned the appropriateness of a surgical procedure. “If you can’t do your job, get the hell out of my OR.”  After  several reported incidences of surgical errors, like operating on the wrong side of a patient’s head, did the hospital address its corrosive culture, a culture where good rebel nurses were habitually dismissed by surgeons. Talk about a modern day caste system.

Being an optimistic type who likes to create solutions rather than muck around in problems, I’ll probably never write a book about train wrecks.  One reason is that it would a really long book to write.

The real reason, though, is that I think my time is better spent helping positive people inside organizations band together and get their ideas heard before the emerging problems cause real damage. Plenty of researchers, academics, books, consultants help executives. Not many help employees on the front lines.

Here at Rebels at Work, we’re all about supporting the people who care enough to say,  “Houston, we have a problem.

– See more at: http://www.rebelsatwork.com/?p=1967&preview=true#sthash.nV8WhkDI.dpuf

After hearing about the release of “Rebels at Work” next month a friend told me that we should write a prequel called “Train Wrecks.”

“There are so many stories about messes at work that could have been avoided if managers had listened to employees.  It never fails to amaze me at how long managers can deny a problem.”

You don’t have to look far to find train wrecks at work — where good rebels warned that the train was going to go off the rails.

  • Financial train wrecks: How have big banks been able to get away with outrageous behavior, creating rippling financial shitstorms? The New York Fed, the chief U.S. bank regulator, created a culture where raising problems and asking questions was shunned. When Carmen Segarra, one of its regulators assigned to Goldman Sachs, actually went about doing her job — thinking that her and her employer’s  job was to fix the financial system — she got fired.  This September 26, 2014 ProPublica article is a great read about how culture, consensus, and discrediting good rebels have allowed our financial system to become a train wreck: Inside the New York Fed: Secret Recordings and a Culture Clash.
  • Automotive train wrecks: Yesterday General Motors issued its 76th recall of 2014, calling back 7,600 police vehicles because they could roll away when drivers thought they were in park.  Following an internal GM investigation earlier this year,  CEO Mary Barra said, “The lack of action was a result of broad bureaucratic problems and the failure of individual employees in several departments to address a safety problem.… Repeatedly, individuals failed to disclose critical pieces of information that could have fundamentally changed the lives of those impacted by a faulty ignition switch.”  Gm knew about the ignition switch safety issue for 10 years before they issued a recall. My guess is that good rebels in GM raised the problems — and their bosses failed to act on that information.
  • Health care train wrecks: As reported by Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit, there were many instances where nurses at Rhode Island Hospital  warn surgeons about patient issues and procedures only to be told to shut up.  “If I want your damn  opinion I’ll ask for it. Don’t ever question my authority again,” a doctor said to a nurse who questioned the appropriateness of a surgical procedure. “If you can’t do your job, get the hell out of my OR.”  After  several reported incidences of surgical errors, like operating on the wrong side of a patient’s head, did the hospital address its corrosive culture, a culture where good rebel nurses were habitually dismissed by surgeons. Talk about a modern day caste system.

Being an optimistic type who likes to create solutions rather than muck around in problems, I’ll probably never write a book about train wrecks.  One reason is that it would a really long book to write.

The real reason, though, is that I think my time is better spent helping positive people inside organizations band together and get their ideas heard before the emerging problems cause real damage. Plenty of researchers, academics, books, consultants help executives. Not many help employees on the front lines.

Here at Rebels at Work, we’re all about supporting the people who care enough to say,  “Houston, we have a problem.

– See more at: http://www.rebelsatwork.com/?p=1967&preview=true#sthash.nV8WhkDI.dpuf

In a world without rebels

Our systems — be they companies, government agencies, schools, churches or healthcare organizations — become brittle, rigid, bureaucratic, and sometimes even dangerous when there are no rebels or change makers who have the courage to say, “This isn’t the right way.” Look no further than General Motors’ recent debacle. This inspirational post reflects on what might happen in a world without rebels.

fireflies-blog

Working without an agenda

A danger for everyone at work — particularly us change makers — is becoming obsessed with our own agenda.

When we’re focused on pushing our agenda forward come hell or high water, we get blinded from taking in potentially valuable new information and from enjoying and learning from  our colleagues.

When our agenda has us, we are handicapped from being effective change makers. Or effective period.

Messengers at work

A lot of people don’t like the word rebel, which I latched onto because it gets people to pay attention and it conveys people with the courage, conviction and commitment to stand up for change.

“Messenger is a much better word,” my friend Maria has been telling me for several months. “It’s positive. Rebels are angry fighters.”

Last week Maria and I got together for our annual two-day marathon where we help one another set our goals and intentions for the year.

Focus

Happy planning season!

It’s that time of year — business planning, which means this is a great time to show how your idea supports whatever your organization’s 2014 mantra may be.

I’ve been fortunate over the past few months to facilitate strategic planning sessions in several very different industry sectors. Yet all shared a common theme:

How can we better focus, collaborate and simplify work?