Change Management

BOOK REVIEW: Orbiting the Giant Hairball

Orbiting-the-Giant-Hairball-9780670879830Orbiting the Giant Hairball
by Gordon MacKenzie
Recommended for: Change agents, creative types stuck in the stifling corporate culture and what you can do about it, storytellers

This book was given to me my by my friend and agile coach, Jamie Gillis, who considers this book a game changer for his life.

This might be one of the most entertaining books I’ve ever read. MacKenzie was an artist at Hallmark for several decades and the pages are covered in doodles. Its almost like reading someone’s sketch book! MacKenzie is a master storyteller. This book inspired me to be improve this skill.

MacKenzie calls corporate culture a giant hairball. He likens policies, procedures, and decisions made by a corporation as individual hairs which when added over the lifetime of the company, becomes an enormous hairball. One orbits the hairball by latching on to the corporate values that resonate with you and use this to fuel your creativity.

Some of my top take-aways and favorite parts of the book:

  1. As is the world of physics, so too in the corporate world: the gravitational pull a body exerts increases as the mass of that body increases. Like physical gravity it is the nature of corporate gravity to suck everything into the mass– the mass of corporate normalcy.
  2. The ghosts of past successes outvote original thinking.
  3. Some people try to escape a giant hairball by going to another company, but find the company is a hairball just like the one they left.
  4. The whole of reality is too much for the conscious mind to grasp. We can only comprehend a slice. So too with civilization and companies. These realities are imposed on the worker. This creates a cocoon that gives us a sense of emotional security through a connection of shared belief. But its also a shroud that binds and cripples us as badly as the ancient practice of binding Chinese women’s feet.
  5. Hypnotizing a chicken. I had never heard of this before and I’ve been around chickens much of my life. He says when we join a company, that is what we are doing. Our face is pushed down to the line. The company line says, “This is our history. This is our philosophy. These are our procedures. These are our politics. This is simply the way we are.” What we need to do when we are being pushed down to the line is to find the goals of the organization that touch your heart. And release your passion to follow those goals.
  6. When a corporation prizes those who heroically overwork themselves in stress filled jobs, the company is telling others: make your job difficult, stretch yourself thin, stress yourself out, and eventually you too may be honored with executive approval. If you desire the blessings of the Mighty Corporate Fathers: work longer hours than is sensible, take on more responsibility than is sensible, make your job harder than is sensible. Do this and your sacrifices will be celebrated and your worth confirmed. This is seductive and plays into the old illusion that if we just work hard enough, and if we just work long enough we will finally be found valuable, be found lovable, and find security. If we fall for this seduction, quality of life erodes.
  7. He described job descriptions like boxes. People are not allowed to step into each other’s boxes. Instead he says we  should be performing like dancers. I like this analogy.
  8. Mandatory Fun- the force feeding of some cockeyed activity to a captive audience with intent to generate joviality. These don’t work. Instead, it generates discomfort that everyone feels but no one acknowledges.
  9. Any time a bureaucrat (a custodian of the system) stands between you and something you want or need, your challenge is to help that bureaucrat discover the means harmonious with the system to meet your need. I like this strategy!!
  10. He talked about organizations as mechanistic (and asphyxiating) versus organic (and vitalizing). I’ve often used these same descriptors for traditional management thinking.
  11. In the end, he finally came to the conclusion that it would be better to stop trying to change the hairball but instead offer to help those who want a fuller more original work experience.
  12. Compassionate emptiness– the state we need to enter when people come to us with their burdens. Stop trying to fix people. People will leave feeling unheard and you will feel a sense of helplessness. When someone comes to you, listen in silence. Imagine yourself being an empty vessel existing only to receive as fully as possible and without judgment. I absolutely love this!
Hairball Doodles

I love this book’s style. It was so fun and easy to read. I finished it over a weekend.

MacKenzie and I have drawn a lot of the same conclusions about management and it was refreshing to see his take on it. I’ve often called corporate systems giant balls of tangled yarn. A giant hairball is also fitting.

Though enlightening, his advice is a coping strategy rather than an antidote. I can appreciate this tactic for those who have grown tired of fighting the power, though I find it sad that he has drawn this conclusion and suggests others do the same. I don’t see the problem as a corporate problem. Its a management problem. Companies, no matter how big or small, are creating hairballs all the time. We shouldn’t expect our employees to just orbit, otherwise our company is doomed. The solution is stop making (and reduce) the hairball!!

The book can be bought here.

BOOK REVIEW: My Years with General Motors

My YearsMy Years with General Motors
by Alfred P. Sloan, Jr.
Recommended for: Change agents who are trying to understand the traditional corporate mindset.


This book is regarded as a must-read for management. It was a best seller when it was published in 1964. Peter Drucker recommended it as a must-read for his students and for managers.

For 50 years, GM was a worldwide powerhouse–the largest automotive company in the world. Success breeds a lot of copy cats and GM’s organizational structure, strategy, and attitudes served as a model for many different types of industries. Many of its principles still hold sway today in corporate America.

Drucker described the book as enjoyable reading. I found it to be 21 hours of uninspiring, soul-sucking verbosity. Still,  if you are a change agent for a more progressive style of management, this book may give you insight into how the traditional corporate mind thinks and how many organizations are still organized.

Sloan’s purpose of the book was to establish a new profession, the manager, and to spell out exactly how to do it. Sloan himself would be the exemplar of the professional manager.

It lays out the corporate strategy for GM in detail. Yeah. Its tedium. Marketing strategy, corporate organization, production schedules, pricing, financial controls (he talked about this a lot. He considers it key in GM’s success), acquisitions, research and innovations, ROI, decision-making structures, handling dealerships (which are franchises–I never knew that), forecasting sales, reporting and communication, talent acquisition (especially at the leadership level), company expansion, personnel matters, and lessons learned (he has a LOT of lessons learned. Good for him). It made me appreciate more what all a CEO has on his mind and their capacity to handle it all.

peter-drucker-4

Mr. Drucker says you have to read this book, even though ol’ Pete had a lot of critical things to say about GM’.

Sloan spends almost a whole chapter discussing unions. You can tell by his tone that this is a sore spot for him. Drucker had criticized him for how he handled them. I wonder what Sloan would have thought about what happened at NUMMI.

He also spent a whole chapter on GM’s bonus plans, which rewards individual contribution. He spent a lot of time defending it, I assume because plenty criticized it including Drucker. Sloan said to abolish it or severely alter it after 45 years could destroy the spirit of GM’s management and he credited the bonus plan for much of the company’s success.

I was disappointed, though perhaps not surprised, that Sloan didn’t talk about operational excellence nor how GM got workers up to speed during the war years (he glossed over it as being a challenge and adjusted production expectations).

Good take aways:

  • Sloan talks about how people want variety and choice and your company must be able to provide this.
  • He says an organization must be adaptable. He gave the example of Ford and the Model T (I wonder what he would have said about the company’s turn-of-the-century struggles and eventual 2009 bail-out).
  • He warned against building a company to support a genius (he implied this was what Ford did). I wonder what he would think of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk?

Insights into the roots of traditional management attitudes:

  • Decisions should be made by capable and rational men coming together. Their focus should be focused on benefiting the shareholders.
  • Increased efficiency does not flow from the increased effectiveness of the workers, but from more efficient management and investment in labor saving devices.
01tail fin

VROOOM!!

Despite its tedium, the book included some interesting parts on the early history of the automotive industry. Sloan spends a lot of time discussing GM’s early competition with Ford. GM simply could not take on the Model T (GM acquired Chevy to compete). Eventually, though, the company’s strategy of “a car for every purse and every purpose” took hold and left Ford in the dust. I was also interested in how GM began to emphasize styling. The classic tail fins of the 50s were inspired by fighter jets!

Walter Friedman with the Harvard Business Review wrote an article surmising My Years with a fifty year perspective in 2014. It can be found here. I recommend it.

BOOK REVIEW: GRIT

GritGrit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
by Angela Duckworth
Recommended for: improvement agents, systems thinkers (as a counter to their beliefs), parents, the education community, people wanting to reach their life goals.

I’ve seen this books floating around the educational circles. Its part of the growth mindset movement in our schools. The book’s premise is that our ability to be gritty (i.e. being able to relentlessly pursue an objective) is what will determine our ability to succeed in life and lays out strategies on how to get more grit.

The book and Duckworth’s ideas have been criticized by systems-thinkers who believe that most of our problems are systems/culture/environment related and praised by those who believe that we need to become better individuals in order to become successful.

Here’s my top 25 takeaways:

  1. Americans endorse hardworking over intelligence by five times when asked about hiring a new employee. However, in practice, we have a tendency to favor “naturals.” (I have personally seen this. We want people who ‘just get it.’)
  1. There’s a grit test in the book. I scored in the 60% which, according to the survey, means I’m grittier than 60% of the population. Should I put this on my resume? Heh.
  1. Grit is about working on something you care about so much your willing to stay loyal to it. Its not about just falling in love, but staying in love.
  1. “Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.” Good quote.
  1. She suggests envisioning your goals in a hierarchy. The top level goal (your life philosophy) is supported by mid-level goals which are supported by low level goals. The lower level goals change in order to meet the higher level goals. Top level goals are written in ink. Lower level goals are written in pencil.
  1. You might have to do things in your lower level goals that you don’t want to do in order to reach your higher level goals.
  1. Grit is about holding the same top level goal for a very long time. This is your life philosophy and is so powerful that it organizes a great deal of your waking activity.
  1. Positive fantasizing is when you have a high level goal, but no lower level goals to reach it. You live with the short term great feelings about your goal, but in the long term, you live with disappointment of not having achieved the goal. This is common.
  1. Grit, just like other character attributes like honesty and generosity are genetically influenced, but also experience influenced.
  1. She had a chart that showed the older you are, the grittier you are. It was quite pronounced. Two ways to interpret this—the older generation grew up in a time when grit was more important (i.e. they just worked harder as they’ve always claimed) or we become more grittier as we get older.
  1. For some, purpose dawns early, for others, it takes many years of refinement. (I fall into this camp. I’m definitely a late bloomer).
  1. For the beginner, novelty is anything they haven’t encountered before. For the expert, novelty is nuance.
  1. “Some people get twenty years of experience, others get one year of experience twenty times in a row.” Another great quote.
  1. Grit paragons exude kaizen. There aren’t any exceptions. (Glad to hear this).
  1. This is how experts practice (called deliberate practice)—they create a stretch goal. They are very specific on what they want to do. Instead of practicing what they do well, they strive to improve weakness. They then give the goal great effort and undivided attention. Experts typically practice when no one is watching. Experts hungrily ask for feedback on how they are doing. They are more interested in what they are doing wrong rather than what they are doing right.
  1. Experts say they do the practice that they don’t like so they can better enjoy what they love.
  1. Doing crazy hours of practice is not the same as deliberate practice. There’s a story of the Japanese Rowing team inviting Mads Rassmusen (Danish rower and double World Champion and Olympic Gold winner) to visit them. He was shocked at how many hours they were putting in. Its not hours of brute force exhaustion you are going after he told them. Its high quality training goals pursued for just a few hours of the day.
  1. Infants and toddlers don’t seem to be bothered when they can’t get something right. They practice it over and over again until they do. What happens? It seems to be that once they get older, they realize their mistakes cause a reaction in some grownups. We frown. Our cheeks puff out. We point out that they are doing something wrong. What does this teach them? Embarrassment. Shame. Fear. Between coaches and parents, they’ve learned that failing is bad. After awhile, they aren’t willing to stick their necks out and give their best effort.
  1. Paragons of grit all believe their hard work and struggles are worth it because somehow they see it helping other people.
  1. Don’t say setbacks aren’t discouraging. That’s not realistic. Of course they are discouraging. Instead believe that setbacks don’t discourage you for long. Always get back on your feet.
  1. You don’t need to be a parent to make a difference in someone’s life. If you care about them and get to know what’s going on, you can make an impact. Try to understand whats going on in their life and help them through that.
  1. Learned industriousness—the idea that hard work and reward can be learned. Without experiencing the connection between reward and effort, animals, including people default to laziness. Calorie burning efforts is, after all, something that evolution has shaped us to avoid whenever possible. Psychologist Robert Eisenberger at the University of Houston has done research on this (this sounds like evidence for X style management).
  1. If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it. If you’re a leader, and you want the people in your organization to be grittier, create a gritty culture. (aha! So there is systems-thinking in this book!)
  1. It seems the hard way to get grit is to learn it yourself. The easy way is to use conformity—the basic human drive to fit in—because if you are around people who are gritty. You’re going to act grittier.
  1. Culture has the power to shape our identity. Over time and under the right circumstances the norms and values of the group to which we belong become our own.

Duckworth admits there needs to be inquiry into exploring the possible downsides of grit. For example, she admits there is a danger in sticking with something for too long. What is the cost of the pursuit? Our family? Relationships? Health? Money? Time? Duckworth says that people with grit are often described as obsessive. When does this go too far?

Overall, I found this book inspiring and I often find myself thinking on what Duckworth has to say, particularly on how we go about setting and accomplishing our goals.

As noted, her ideas and research seem to run, at first glance, counter to systems-thinking. Her thesis is that we need to strengthen the individual in order to get ahead. However, she also argues that gritty culture creates gritty individuals, which is a systems idea.

After reading this book, I’m thinking we need both. For us systems-thinkers, we need grit when our influence is low, because we are unable to improve the system, but when our influence becomes greater, we have the responsibility to improve the system (Deming often remarked that our system is destroying the rugged individual—we need to fix this).

My concern, though, is that within our dualistic culture, we will concentrate on one or the other and because we are an individualistic society, we will focus more on the individual. This book may be giving those with this mindset too much ammunition. Perhaps this is why, Alfie Kohn, who I admire a lot, has been highly critical of Duckworth’s work. His argument against it can be found here.

The book can be bought here.

Obstacle to Visual Management- Aesthetics

When I first saw people using post-its to track their progress on a wall, I thought the idea ignorant or naïve. Come on, I thought. We live in the 21st century. Are we not aware of task tracking applications? Have we really reverted to pieces of paper stuck to the wall? It looks like children are running the place!

I’ve run into this attitude quite a few times since I’ve become a believer in the power of visual management. I sometimes forget I had this attitude at one time.

I’ve often been asked why I just don’t use Excel instead of using a board. One guy yelled across the room at me, “You’ve made a mess!” When consultants for our software department suggested a team use Kanban, management met them with a solid, “No. It doesn’t look professional.” (I guess they thought the same thing about my wall!).

20170324_110418

This is the view of my old Kanban wall from across the floor. Does it look unprofessional?

I once had a part time job at a cafe at a local museum. The cafe just opened and leadership was very proud of it. It was built in an old WWII jeep garage and had brand new granite counters, rustic sheet metal facing, and exhibits on life during WWII. The museum had great plans for it. My first morning, another employee and I were looking all through the cabinets for coffee and other items. We just couldn’t find anything. There were over 50 drawers and cabinets in the cafe—all white.

20171106_102231

After several attempts of rummaging through drawers and cabinets trying to find things, I decided to put labels on them. Something simple and temporary— the top of post it notes. I had a feeling management wouldn’t approve, but hey—it was helping me with my job! At the least, I could show a proof of concept and it could be easily taken down if not approved.

20171106_091553

Sure enough, a manager came in and asked who put up the labels. I said I did. I was told to remove them. I explained it was difficult to find anything. I was told I would soon memorize where things were. Further, I was told it was important that the cafe look nice for visitors (and labels look bad). He related a story on how the last cafe manager had put labels all over the cabinets and it didn’t look good. I asked why he thought the last manager did that. He said she was trying to organize things (but he didn’t like the way it looked). I asked if we could perhaps create labels with WWII style fonts. He said no. At that point, I decided I couldn’t win and because I had just started and didn’t want to get the reputation for being difficult, I removed the labels.

In retrospect, I may have had a better chance of convincing him if I had gotten others to come along with the idea (though I doubt it. Another employee told me they didn’t offer ideas because they wouldn’t be adopted. They just did what they were told to do).

Regardless, between these two jobs, I have greatly underestimated how some will value aesthetics over efficiency. I’m not sure how one bridges this gap, especially when one doesn’t have any position of power and has little influence. For me, I made the transition when someone asked me to make a Kanban board for the team. Once I did it, I was hooked and haven’t looked back. But how does one get someone to even try?

What obstacles have you encountered in trying to get an organization to adopt visual management? Has anyone brought up the issue of aesthetics?

BOOK REVIEW: TO SELL IS HUMAN

to-sell-use-thisTo Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel Pink

Recommended for: People trying to persuade others


Daniel Pink is known in the Agile and Lean circles for another great book, Drive. Those that follow my blog know I struggle with trying to get people to change. I was excited to see he had written this book.

Pink’s premise is that while 1 out of 9 people are in sales, the other 8 also sell. We are all trying to persuade others all the time. Unfortunately, many of the truisms that we’ve accepted about selling are either outdated or just aren’t correct. From my own experience, much of what he writes about will be counter-intuitive to most or will sound wrong simply because this isn’t what we’ve been taught. Its quite the eye opener.

Pink’s a great storyteller and easy to read. His ideas are backed up by research, mostly from the field of psychology, and is all cited.

There was a lot of good takeaways here and its a book, of course, that deserves further study. This is my top 25:

  1. We used to be in a world where the seller had more information than the buyer, but now we live in a world (thanks to the internet) where the buyer has as much information as the seller if not more. We have to change our approach.
  2. Empathy is an important attribute to have in sales, but studies show it is more beneficial to understand what is going on in another’s head than in their heart.
  3. Know who the key players are involved in making a decision, but more importantly, understand their biases and preferences. This will help you better allocate time, energy, and resources to the right relationships. It would suck if you spent a year trying to persuade someone only to learn they are not the person you need to persuade.
  4. Learn to mimic others (but don’t over due it) touching is also helpful (though make it appropriate).
  5. Studies show that its not the extroverts who do better at sales, despite what we may think. Those who are considered ambiverts are the best. Introverts do about as good as extroverts, though not as quite.
  6. We are more likely to be persuaded by people who are more like us. Its because they remind us of us. For those who are not like you—find things you have in common. Its ok if its small talk—like you have the same type of dog. People are more likely to move together when they share common ground.
  7. Positive emotions are good to have in a sales pitch, because they are contagious. Use them. Related- if you believe in something, you are more likely to be able to sell it.
  8. People with the ratio of 3:1 positive emotions to negative emotions are more likely to move someone. Those whose ratio exceeds 11:1 are less likely. These people are, or come off, delusional.
  9. Optimism is good. It can stir persistence, steady us during challenges, and stoke confidence that we can influence our surroundings. Even the best salesmen aren’t optimistic all the time, though. They can take things personally, just like everyone else.
  10. The more you are able to explain away bad events as temporary, specific, and external, the more likely you are to persist.
  11. Every silver lining has a cloud. It isn’t about banishing negative emotions. Negative emotions are crucial to our survival. They prevent unproductive behaviors from cementing into habits. They deliver useful information on our efforts. They alert us to when we’re on the wrong path.
  12. There is a difference between people who solve problems and those who are trying to find the problem. Pink looked specifically at Csikszentmihalyi and Getzels’s study in creativity. The findings are that people who have creative breakthroughs in various disciplines tend to be problem finders not solvers. Problem finders sort through vast amounts of information, experiment, are willing to switch directions, and often take longer to complete their work (and I would add– that’s the rub—people want their results NOW!!)
  13. When selling ourselves, its more important to focus on our potential. Don’t just fixate on what you achieved yesterday. Emphasize the promise of what you could accomplish tomorrow. There are studies by Tormala and Jia of Stanford University that suggests this is the right approach. Sounds counter intuitive.
  14. “Clarity on how to think without clarity on how to act can leave people unmoved.”
  15. When selling an idea, don’t get lost in the details. Think about the essence of what you are exploring—the 1% that gives life to the other 99%. Understand that 1% and learn to explain it to others. This will make you more likely to move others.
  16. He suggests trying to come up with a one word pitch that encapsulates what you are wanting to do. This is the elevator pitch on acid and works pretty well in our world where people’s time is getting more and more limited. For example, Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign’s strategy was encapsulated with the word, “Forward.”
  17. Another good tactic to use is to pitch using a question. For example, Reagan asked the American people “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Pink warns this can backfire. You need to know your audience. Mitt Romney tried this in 2012 and it didn’t work because plenty of people thought they were better off.
  18. He also suggests the rhyming pitch. People will remember it. Remember Johnnie Cochran in the OJ Simpson trial, “If it does not fit, you must acquit.”
  19. When you are preparing your pitch, ask yourself these three questions: “What do you want them to know?,” “What do you want them to feel?,” and “What do you want them to do?”
  20. He suggests you start observing and making a collection of how others make successful pitches and emulating.
  21. Get feedback on your pitch. Many people are surprised by the disconnect between what they think they’re conveying versus what others are actually hearing.
  22. Study improv. You can apply these lessons to selling. Interestingly enough, sales have learned from theater for some time. It used to be they went off a script, but now they are seeing the benefits of being able to act like a good improv actor.
  23. Pink said its important not to try and get into a I must win situation. He said the idea isn’t to win, its to learn. Alfred Fuller of Fuller Brush fame said “Never argue. To win an argument is to lose a sale.”
  24. Its important for when you are trying to move someone to understand that you are dealing with a human being. They are not an anonymous case study.
  25. Most sales are geared toward self-interest. However, studies have shown that moving people by appealing to their self-transcending side is much more effective. Improving other’s lives and in turn improving the world is the lifeblood and final secret to moving others.

Great book. Like I said, I’ll be coming back to this one again.

It can be bought here.

BOOK REVIEW: DEEP CHANGE

Deep ChangeDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within
by Robert E. Quinn


This book scared me.

After completing it, I realized what I would need to be willing to do in order to make real change in my organization. Facing that thought was frightening.

The book was recommended by a participant in the TNE Study Sessions series as a way of making effective change in an organization.

Quinn is different than other management scientists in that he believes the external world can be changed by altering our internal world. In other words, where most believe that change must come from the top down, he proposes it can start from the bottom up and that one person can make a difference.

There is a ton of stuff in here that was really good and worthy of restudy, but here are some of my bigger takeaways:

  • Quinn says that most organizations are slowly dying (he calls it slow death) and they are taking their employees along with them. For the organization, this slow death is literal, for the individual, it is more figurative—the person is dying inside, i.e. losing who they are.
  • Quinn talks about different strategies people employ when dealing with slow death. Most accept it for what is is, and die with the organization. Others take the strategy of doing their best and, at the same time, preparing an exit strategy. Quinn says the problem with this strategy is that most find the same problems in the next organization they go to. A third option is to change your paradigm to one of transformation.
  • His “Tyranny of Competence” chapter was excellent and explained why we we often rely on heroes to manage and why they so often fail. The technically competent person who doesn’t know how to handle people begins to control every facet of their people’s lives and morale plummets. Technically competent people must play well with others and must train others to become better, or they must go. (I have witnessed this personally.)
  • “The Internally Driven Leader” was probably the best chapter. Quinn reviews three typical paradigms- Technical (the front line worker), Transactional (the manager), and Transformational (a change leader). He explains these paradigms and how our culture emphasizes the technical and transactional paradigm. One who wants real change must embrace the transformational paradigm.
  • Those who have a transformational paradigm hold the view that their vision must be realized at any cost. The system is seen as not just a technical or political system, but also a moral one.
  • Their source of credibility is their behavioral integrity. They must walk the walk and talk the talk. Every action must be in align with the vision, otherwise they are seen as a hypocrite.
  • Those who embrace the transactional paradigm are internally driven. They appreciate technical competence and political exchange, but are able to see beyond it. They do not see survival as a driving force. Their main objective is the realization of their vision. Identification with the organization is so complete that the leader is willing to die for the vision or principle because it is right. (SCARY).
  • Those who hold a transformational paradigm are rare.
  • Quinn argues that one doesn’t need new skills and competencies to create change, you need a new world view (not sure I agree—one needs to have the power of persuasion).
  • Organizations, by their nature, are there to create equilibrium, not change.
  • Every couple of years, you need to bet your job, otherwise, you aren’t doing your job. But don’t be stupid. You can’t be wild and fly off on every issue. You have to pick the issues that really matter. (I took this to heart)
  • Excellence is a form of deviance. You become excellent because you do things normal people do not want to do. You become excellent by choosing a path that is risky and painful, a path that is not appealing to others. Why would someone want to do it? Because it is the right thing to do and it brings about enormous self satisfaction. That is the key motivator—these leaders do it because they know it is right.
  • It is much easier to solve today’s problems than to mold the future. It is easier to be an analyzer and task master than developmental and a visionary motivator. Transformational leaders can be both. They link the operational present with the developmental future. This is what makes them persuasive. Useful visions inspire people to new levels. (I think these are wise words).
  • Learn to listen to the voice of the organization, not your individual voice. The individual voice maintains self-interest. The organizational voice wants the organization to succeed. It bows to truth and doesn’t care about power. It seeks to expose painful realities. It seeks the collective good. The inner voice is often a threat to those in authority. It is the most potent source of power in an organization.
  • Quinn points out that when a leader decides his organization must change, he typically expects others to change, not him. This is human nature, but is why many change initiatives fail.
  • We are too often fixated on task completion instead of maintenance. Most will agree that maintenance is important, but no one makes the time to do it. We are under pressure to just complete tasks. However, all we are really doing is kicking the can down the road and allowing the crisis to appear later.

This book made me question how far I am willing to go to make a change. I drew the conclusion that I have the transformational paradigm, what I lack is a realistic strategy for implementing change. He proposed that change is built on the fly (he equated it to building a bridge as you are trying to cross) and that resources will just appear if your vision is strong enough (sounds little voo-doo to me, but who knows?).

Its a book I will definitely be referring to moving forward. It can be bought here.

The Question on the Wall- A Lesson Learned

Its not easy wanting to be a change agent but having to figure it out on my own. It is so hard to know what to do: when to take a risk, when to hold back, what direction to take. Sometimes I fail. Here’s what I learned from a recent experiment.

I was inspired by the book, Leading with Questions. One of the book’s premises is that asking questions gets an organization to change and to learn together. It got me thinking. How can I use this tactic?

My last company had this white board in the break room that posed questions to the employees. Just before I left, I had volunteered to pose a question. The answers received generated discussion among management. The last I heard, positive action was being taken and it was all because of asking the right question. Could I replicate this experience at my new company?

We have these dry erase white walls all over the floor at my present company. The idea of posing a question that generated discussion seemed like a good idea to me. But which question to ask?

I was listening to a podcast with Mark Graban and the topic of culture came up. This interested me because our company has been conducting surveys about our culture and how we can improve it. Mark said one question he would pose regarding culture was “What is wrong with your culture that you wish to change it?”

I figured this would by my question, so I went into our break room and on the wall wrote:

question

I was curious to see what would happen. Would it generate discussion? Would people write answers? Would it just sit there for a few weeks with no engagement? Would people demand to know why I posed such a question and become angry?

When I came back the next day to see if it had gotten any activity, I found the question had been erased.

I asked one of my co-workers, who knew I wrote it, why she thought it had been erased. It turned out she had erased it. Here was her reasoning:

She said the question was being viewed as negative. People wanted to know why someone on contract and not a full time employee had the right to ask a question such as this. It seemed to be an attack on the company. She also said people wanted to know why someone would pose such a question in the first place. What was its purpose? She said her concern was that the wrong people would see it and I would be fired for it. She said she let my supervisor know about it just in case there was backlash. To protect me, she erased it. She said the survey that was about to go out regarding culture would generate a discussion among leaders who would figure out how to make a positive change. She also said I should go through proper channels if I had concerns such as using the suggestion box (I pointed out to her that its never used), having the Best Places to Work Committee address the issue (she believed the question may have stepped on the committee’s toes) or go up the chain of command–not write a question on a wall.

I’ll make no bones about it. Her words hurt and I was also embarrassed. I thought she was probably being overly cautious, but she had some points I could think about. A lot of what she was saying boiled down to perception. The question is– was her perception indicative of what everyone thinks? Or was it just her? This person was obviously afraid of the ramifications for posing the question. Is she the exception or the rule?

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised by the backlash. Mark said his question often upset people, so why should this have been any different?

After some thought and bouncing it off others, I believe the question’s phrasing may have been what got it into trouble. I used the word ‘wrong’ which is negative. If I had instead phrased the second part of the sentence, “what is it about our culture that you feel needs to be changed?” perhaps it wouldn’t have hit nerves.

The story doesn’t end here. Our new leaders held a Town Hall meeting and were inviting questions. I thought about posing this same question. However, our department director told me explicitly (in front of the whole floor) not to ask any provocative questions. I was angry, but perhaps this is indicative of the perception people have of me—am I being perceived as a rabble rouser? I would guess that the IT director does not want me to embarrass him or the department in front of our leadership. In other words—he doesn’t trust me. Not a good situation to be in (or, admittedly, he may just not trust leadership).

So, lesson learned– I just found a boundary of comfort for this organization. I definitely shouldn’t have been unilateral about it. Change is not something I can do flying solo. I have to be careful of people’s perception of me and what I do. I’m also going to have to get more people’s trust. I need to better understand how I can do this.

My next step— find a better forum to ask questions: one-on-one, in social situations, during meetings. Get feedback on how people perceive me. Continue to look for things that are working and things that are not. My goal is to get people to have a dialogue about what can be improved so we can come together and make a positive change. Perhaps I should have started with this goal in mind before I posed the question.

UPDATE TO ORIGINAL POST: Shortly after this, I was let go from the company without notice. I’m certain this question had something to do with the dismissal. Looking back, though I had plenty of zeal to make things better, I lacked the skills and experience to do it. I underestimated the need for patience, building relationships of trust with those I wanted to influence  and not having a strong grasp on human nature (though I learned a lot about it at this company). I was also stubborn (and frustrated that I couldn’t make a change). I was also naïve to the ramifications of my actions: the real world can, and will, hurt you for trying to make change. The truth is, this company did not ask me to come in and help make improvements, though I was hell-bent on taking them down that path. Can one blame them for kicking me out?

BOOK REVIEW: Leading with Questions

Leading With QuestionsDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask
by Michael J. Marquardt


I’ve been racking my head on what I can do to better influence people. It is no easy feat. The last book I reviewed focused on changes I can make in myself, this one focuses on how to change others. This book was recommended to me by Jerry Bussell, who founded the Jacksonville Lean Consortium. Glad to have Jerry and his expertise around and I look forward to working with him.

Overall, the book generated some thought and gave me some ideas to try, but this is really a book that should be studied and read several times. It has a lot of depth. Learning to ask questions and then ask the right one is an art form and is going to take a lot of practice.

My takeaways:

  • We are taught not to ask questions in our society. Its considered rude, threatening (like an interrogation), or just annoying. We’re going to have to break this paradigm. I’m not too thrilled about having to break yet another paradigm, but this might be something people may be more willing to change or try than adopting the Deming philosophy. Its also something I can do for myself right now.
  • The first few chapters seemed to be more about convincing the reader that asking questions was a good thing to do. Honestly, I got a little tired of hearing about it.
  • Good quote- “People don’t resist change as much as they resist being changed.”
  • The author suggests this to create a questioning culture
    • Start with the top. Top leaders must start the questioning process. (Every improvement strategy starts this way. A little irritating. I mean, really, do we honestly believe our execs are reading these books??).
    • Create an environment that gets people to challenge the status quo.
    • Connect the values of the company to questions
    • Build questions into every business activities (including your customers and partners).
    • Reward and appreciate questioners and tolerate failures and mistakes.
    • Provide training for people to ask better questions.
  • People are used to the leaders telling them what to do. This makes people dependent. When you start this type of managing style, people will probably become confused. Traditionally, the leaders role is to provide information and have all the answers. If the leader uses a questioning style, people may feel abandoned, or is trying to catch them on something. Its suggested that leaders be honest in what they are doing—tell your people you are trying something different. Its also suggested you gradually introduce doing it so its not so abrupt.
  • I’d add that managers who ask their people questions could be viewed as weak or incompetent. Many people like their leaders to be smart and decisive, otherwise, they become afraid. They want a hero.
  • Leaders and mangers themselves are used to telling people what to do. They see this as a source of power. Leaders see themselves as being right. Its what made them successful. Its difficult for them to say, “I don’t know.” Also, they may not like the answers they get. Ask these leaders to change their ways, don’t tell them to do it. Lead by example. Ask them these questions:
  • “Would you like people to solve their own problems rather than come to you?”
  • “How do you feel when I ask you questions?”
  • “Why do you think leading with questions makes you uncomfortable?”
  • Give people time to think after you ask the question.
  • A team can get stuck. Traditionally, the members wait for the leader to analyze the problem and propose a solution. Team members hold back and wait for the leader to accept responsibility. The wise leader will not fall into this trap. Ask questions. Get them to figure it out and take responsibility. When a team is confused, it is ripe for new possibilities. Teams must learn to share responsibility. They need to share ideas and problems. Asking questions gets us there.
  • Better to ask open ended questions rather than close ended questions (though close-ended questions have their place).
  • Good questions: “If you were me, what would you do?”
  • Things seem to be repeated in the book—same stories. A couple of times I wondered if I had accidently restarted a chapter.
  • How to become a leader who asks questions:
    • Start by becoming more aware of the questions you currently ask and the types of questions people ask of you.
    • Try this- pick an hour and force yourself not to ask questions.
    • Ask yourself more questions silently. It will help you construct better questions. “What does this mean? Do I agree or disagree? How could this be helpful? How does this extend or contradict what I already believe to be true?
    • Before asking a question, ask yourself, what do I want my question to accomplish? Encourage collaborative thinking and cannot be perceived as threatening.
    • Encourage others to ask you questions.

I think this is a book I will have to come back to again in the future. Like I said, there’s a lot of depth. This one isn’t necessarily something one can master quickly, but it presents the opportunity to practice regularly–I mean how hard is it to practice asking questions?

The book can be bought here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Charisma Myth

The-_Charisma-_Myth-_Olivia-_Fox-_CabaneDAN’S SCORE: stars-4-5
The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism
by Olivia Fox Cabane


I’ve been wanting to read this book for three years now when I first heard a podcast with the author, Olivia Fox Carbane, at The Art of Manliness.

The premise of the book is that charisma is not necessarily something someone is born with. Its something that people can learn and use as a weapon in their leadership arsenal.

I’m often confounded on how one changes people’s minds and paradigms. I started thinking about how Deming emphasized the importance of psychology. He usually talked about it in reference to how people learn or are motivated, but shouldn’t we also use psychology to change people’s minds? Charisma would be an awesome thing to have in a change agent’s tool belt.

Here are some of my biggest takeaways:

  • The book starts off with an example of how Marilyn Monroe could turn her charisma on and off at will. The story goes Munroe was riding in a train with a reporter in New York, but no one knew who she was. Then all of the sudden, Munroe just turned ‘on’ and she was suddenly mobbed.
  • The three sources of charisma is presence, power, and warmth.
  • Of these, Cabane said if you can just master presence, you will have a tremendous advantage.
  • Cabane says its important to focus on your internal charisma before focusing on the external. This will give you a solid foundation so you can always be ‘on’ when you need to be–don’t be caught flatfooted or unaware. You must be prepared mentally for tough situations to retain your charisma.
  • One of my big takeaways was her admonition to get used to being in uncomfortable situations. She said to learn to recognize when you are uncomfortable and then purposely invite it (like standing the wrong direction in a crowded elevator). You will soon get used to be in uncomfortable situations and won’t be so easily flapped. For someone who doesn’t like being in uncomfortable situations, this was a big lightbulb and one I’ve thought about a lot lately and have started to practice.
  • Some tips for becoming stronger mentally–rewrite reality (she said charismatic people are often living in their own weird world), visualization (she said create happy situations before hand–things that really get you jazzed–then being it to mind when you are feeling low), visualize a hug (it releases oxytocin and will calm you), or create an imaginary advisory council in your mind (Napoleon Hill did this).
  • She said its very important to have a lot of self compassion.
  • There are different types of charisma including visionary and focused charisma.
  • Body language is important. It can change your mood and behavior. The one thing she suggests is to be the big gorilla. Make yourself take up space and act powerful–like a gorilla. I’ve used this a lot. It seems to work. I at least feel more confident.
  • She said to treat everyone like they are the star of their own movie you are watching.
  • She says to dress like the people you are trying to influence–though dress on the upper edge of it (i.e.–dress like everyone, but be the one who is better dressed than most). She said its part of our tribal instincts. We want to be around people who look like us.
  • She had other advice in the book for negotiating and giving good presentations.
  • The author says that for those who master charisma, they often feel alone. They are always expected to do more and achieve great things. Those who are charismatic and don’t deliver will be destroyed by a disappointed society.
  • Cabane said once charisma is mastered, it can be extremely powerful. She pointed out that for some time, leadership gurus said it was a bad thing to use charisma. Peter Drucker said it was dangerous and pointed out the most charismatic people of the 20th century were Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and Mao. She warned charisma can be like a knife. It can be used to heal or used to harm and it must be used responsibly.

Does all this work? Yes, I believe so. After reading this book, I feel more charismatic and I’ve felt my confidence growing. I already feel like I may be better influencing people. I’m going to be studying this book and applying its principles more often.

I listened to the book on Audible, but plan to get a hard copy. The book can be bought here.

It Starts With Us

I don’t practice what I preach. This became a hard reality for me recently. I was reading Mark Graban’s book and he talks about how easy it is to find fault in others and not see what we may be doing wrong.

morpheus-red-blue-pill

WARNING: Studying Deming will haunt you for the rest of your life!

Deming talks about the transformation of the individual. Its really true. I equate it to taking the red pill. Afterwards, I was often angry with others—why didn’t they get it?? It was too easy to climb up on my soap box and start preaching. It wasn’t really getting me anywhere, though. This added to my own frustration. But wait, didn’t Deming talk about the need for understanding Psychology? Wouldn’t I need to understand it in order to change people’s minds? If so, why wasn’t I doing that? Worse, was getting angry and telling people what they should believe increasing their own knowledge and adding to their joy? I wasn’t practicing what I preached!

And what about my own life? I’m out of shape. I don’t eat the greatest. Was I chasing short term pay offs instead of focusing on the long term like I had been preaching? And then there’s my own family. Was I improving their life? Was I teaching my children the importance of collaboration and helping them find pride in their work and showing them how to continuously improve?

I read a book some time ago about how we influence others and I remember taking away from it that my strongest ability to influence was by modeling. People are watching me. Whether its my Kanban board at work or just watching how I interact and treat others. When one chooses to take the red pill, you’ve entered a new world and have a huge responsibility to help others.

Some things I could be doing better:

  1. How’s my constancy of purpose? Do I even have one? Once I identify it, do I even have the willpower to pursue it and achieve it?
  2. I need more energy and focus. In order to do this, I need to eat more healthy and exercise. In order to do it, I’ll need discipline. I need to go out and get some.
  3. If I want to help others improve, I need to learn how to influence them. I need to be studying psychology more.
  4. I need to be reducing variation in my own life. I can do this by building quality in. For example—just maintaining what I already have (oil changes, taking care of my clothes, keeping my house tidy and clean, finding ways to simplify).
  5. Identify when I’m being short-term minded. I’m stunned at how easy it is to fall into this trap.
  6. I need to be conducting my own experiments and PDSA. Currently I’m experimenting with meditation to boost my will power.
  7. Be more humble. I don’t have it all figured out and I never will. There are others out there who have knowledge.
Untitled

So easy to get into this mindset. I need to check it at the door.