Thinking Big for 2017 with Jason Little

Many of you reading this will have heard of Jason Little and his blog leanchange.org, but to those of you who haven’t, let me introduce to you – Jason.

 

I had the privilege of interviewing him recently on his goals for his blog in 2017, trends, innovation and inspiration. I learnt so much from his interview and I am certain that you will too.

 

Q: What are your goals for your blog in 2017?

A: I have three blog sites. The goal for all 3 is similar in the sense that they help me test and refine my ideas. Leanchange.org has been evolving over the last year to be more about the global network of lean change agent practitioners who are using modern practices for facilitating change. What’s interesting for me is that people post stories and articles through leanchange.org that aren’t necessarily related to the book. The point is that meaningful change matters more so than the ideas in the book.

 

I keep my agile blog separate because it’s focused on agile practices in the software space. Sometimes I’ll post articles about change, but it’s always in an agile context.

 

My personal blog hosted on Medium is more about either blowing off steam and writing about politics or society, but there is always a wrapper of change around them. I use this blog to practice different metaphors, writing styles, topics and more.

 

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Q: Which innovative trends do you recognize in change management nowadays?

A: I definitely see a trend towards Agile, the use of neuroscience, and a stance that is moving towards meaningful, pull-based change as opposed to control-driven, and process or push-based approaches.  My social feeds are flooded with agile-this and agile-that everyday. The funny thing is, while the change community moves towards Agile ideas, the Agile community is moving towards change and organizational development ideas.

 

I’d say we’re definitely in the innovators phase of the Diffusions of Innovation model. Few are actually innovating as opposed to putting the word Agile in front of their same-old traditional practices. Some say Agile has crossed the chasm into mainstream business, but most of the time it’s buzzword bingo more than anything else.

 

Some of the practitioners I’ve worked with are using Lego Serious Play, Innovation Games, and other modern practices that Agile folks have been using for over a decade, but overall, that level of innovation is still too far out there for the mainstream change community.

 

As an example, last year myself and 17 other facilitators ran a large-scale Lego Serious Play workshop for 200 leaders in a 30,000+ person organization to explore what a future would look like where they had solved their 3 most important business challenges. The CEO, CTO and head of transformation were there as well so they didn’t expect “their people” to do it, they were involved hands-on as well.

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I think far too many change practitioners see innovation in change management as something they do, or something they improve about their change process and that’s where they fall down in my view. Meaningful change is about getting out of your office, going down to the shop floor, and bringing change sponsors with you.

 

Change isn’t about us, the practitioners. It’s about the people whose lives are affected day-in and day-out with whatever the change is. I’ve always said if the ‘change managers’ are the face of your transformation, your transformation is doomed!

 

Q: If you had the power to start a new trend, what new idea/behavior would you introduce in 2017?

A: This year my theme is around how organizational change is analogous to social change. At some point, someone decides to change something, and then the movement happens…or it doesn’t. The trend I’d like to start is have people use how social change happens AS their change framework because that’s naturally how change happens.

 

Make no mistake, the big consulting firms and method vendors are going to make piles of money off ‘Agile Change Certifications’ and ‘Agile Change Toolkits’ this year and they’ll all be missing the point.

 

I think the change community can see right through that nonsense and those that get it, so to speak, will start focusing on change that matters.

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Q: In your view – what are the top 3 mistakes companies make when trying to implement a change? What are some key differentiators you recognize in a successful change?

A: The first mistake is thinking that the people on the change team are the people who are going to make the change work. We have zero authority, and zero skin in the game. Far too many times top leaders tap the change team to go fix other people and most of the time I see that the change people don’t set the expectation upfront or push upwards hard enough over fear of losing the gig.

 

The second is thinking that change happens in a linear way. We plan it, execute it and close the project down.  That happens because someone needs to pay for the change program, someone needs to report status on it, and someone needs to account for this-that-and-the-other on some type of report or balance sheet.

 

The trap here is falling into a project management process instead of realizing that change is going to work out the way it’s going to work out. There are easily 40+ change methods out there, if we had a best practice that worked, shouldn’t there only be one method?

 

The third mistake is not making space for change. Life is busy enough nowadays and sometimes another change at work is just another annoyance we need to deal with. We already need to use 14 different online systems for banking, paying bills, getting statements from our utilities companies, and there are countless mobile apps and web-based services that we use that change constantly. We pay for and bag our own groceries, pump our own gas, and even order our own food at restaurants that are using iPads instead of servers.

 

The push to a self-serve, automated society is tiring us out! And for those who have kids under 10 who are growing up in the mobile app era, it’s even worse because there’s more of a burden on parents to remember passwords, make sure all the social channels our kids are using are safe and more. Keeping up with change in our personal lives is substantially different than it used to be so we’re already over-saturated with change.  

 

Now we get to work and we need to work on the 12 projects we’re assigned to AND figure out why this annoying change person scheduled a 2 day death-by-powerpoint training session because of some new system that is coming in 2 years. The only enemy of change is time.

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Differentiators? I was visiting a large organization a couple of weeks ago and we were having a retrospective about what happened since our last change intervention six months ago.

 

Some were frustrated that the change wasn’t happening fast enough so I asked who had been working there for more than 2, 3 or 5 years. About a quarter of the people still had their hands raised so I asked them if this change feels like the same old song and dance or not. They said this one feels differently. The leaders are saying some of the same things as before, but somehow this time it feels different, and they think it’s going to work.

 

The lead change person gave the group information that this time the change has been triggered from the heart, wallet and head. That is, the leaders are going to Lean Coffee sessions and not talking, but listening. The main board member has invested an unbelievable amount of money in the transformation, and they’ve found the right metaphor and structure for facilitating the change.

 

Like I mentioned in the third mistake above, time is the only enemy and this organization is making time for it. They’ve had people leave, and they know more people will leave because of the pain and uncertainty, but they’re forging ahead. I told them that other similar enterprise organizations I work with haven’t gotten past “let’s use Agile to fix our teams” and here they are talking about love, trust and vulnerability.

 

Q: Let us in on some of your secrets… where do you look for innovation? For inspiration and revolutionary ideas?

A: This might sound creepy, but I am a people watcher. Some days I take the train to the city to visit clients. Sometimes that’s during rush hour, and sometimes it’s right after rush hour. While there’s more people during rush hour, there are two distinct cultural norms happening while people are waiting for the train.

 

During rush hour, people are in perfectly arranged rows and they are standing exactly where the doors will open when the train gets there. Right after rush hour, it’s a little more random, even though I see the same people day in and day out.

 

It’s fascinating to watch how these different groups behave and react to any tiny change in where the train stops, or timing of the train. The rush hour crowd freaks out a little more while the post-rush hour crowd seems to take it in stride.

 

It’s also fun to watch people at airports. I travel in batches so there are months when I’m flying often. People lose their minds waiting in lines at security or when they’re frantically grabbing their stuff from the security screener so they won’t “hold up the line” longer than they need to. I was in Iceland for a short stopover and their airport serves double the number of travellers that it was intended to.

 

There were 7 or 8 flights all leaving within 15 minutes of each other, and people were crammed into the gate area not knowing which line they were in. I could see the sign for my flight so it wasn’t a big deal, but others were not assured by that certainty! People left-right-and-centre were complaining and panicking. “OMG WHAT IF I END UP ON THE CHICAGO FLIGHT!!! WHAT IF IT LEAVES WITHOUT ME???”

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Of course that’s ridiculous, but it’s a real fear nonetheless. In my view, it’s all about certainty and loss of control. In both situations, the traveler has zero control. They’re dependent on what’s happening in their environment and some people adjust better than others. As change practitioners, we’re stuck managing that mess.

 

We change people cling to our ideas and models as a security blanket, but change in our organizations happens the exact same way it does in society which is why I love watching how change affects our planet. A massive transit overhaul disrupts our daily commute in the same way a massive organizational transformation disrupts our ability to work on the day-to-day projects that started before the transformation did.

 

We account for this in our commute by leaving earlier, or finding the best, and quickest path through the mess. That is, we let go of an existing norm or ritual in order to adjust to the change. In our organizations, we don’t do that. We have the expectation that we’re going to do all the work for the new change AND keep the existing commitments and daily rituals/processes or what-have-you.

 

I’ve always written and talked about how change doesn’t happen according to the budget and schedule associated to the change program. I still believe that, and the more I see how much societal change affects how our organizations change, the more I get inspired by drawing parallels between how social movements precisely mimic what happens when we try to change our organizations.

 

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned about being inspired was to get away from the Agile community and move into many other communities such as the professional coaching, change management and OD communities. By connecting with people who didn’t think like I did, it opened my mind up to new possibilities instead of reinforcing my existing beliefs.

Christopher Smith
Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.
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