Change Thinking

Despite all the business change knowledge uncovered during the last 50 years, many seasoned change management professionals still aren’t adequately prepared to serve those trying to navigate their way through today’s turbulence. Change Thinking is an effort to have an exchange with, and be part of, a community of practitioners committed to raising the level of their game and that of the field of change execution.

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The Signature Pattern of Methodology Bigots

Hi. My name is Daryl Conner and I’m a methodology bigot.

Methodology bigots don’t fight—we just snub each other.

As a profession, we’ve unofficially agreed that too much open display of friction is not acceptable. Instead, those who think they independently own the holy grail express their pejorative views about frameworks other than their own by simply ignoring them.

Don’t get me wrong—we read each other’s books, articles, blogs, and websites—but mostly to confirm that what’s there isn’t worth pursuing in more depth. We even attend each other’s speeches and seminars, but primarily to engage in “stealth due diligence.” We’re sure that what we already have is the best approach to change but we are always on alert. You never know when someone outside the anointed circle might inadvertently stumble across something worth listening to.

Disagreement over who is “right” among experts within a field doesn’t mean much if that field or its SMEs are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. If helping to orchestrate major organizational transitions had little real bearing on the actual outcomes, all our divisiveness would be a benign non-event as far the rest of the world is concerned. The problem is, we say our profession is critical to change success and that the projects we work on make a difference. If this is the case, we have no excuse for the lack of respect that sometimes exists among proponents of the various approaches.

When methodology bigots do find something outside our frame of reference that impresses us, we usually chalk it up as an anomaly. We might even occasionally insert a particular concept, tool, or technique we stumble across into our well-entrenched model (with or without proper attribution). We see this, however, as nothing more than augmenting our already best-in-class approach…making it just a little bit better…no big deal.

We methodology bigots may think we’ve disguised ourselves to the point that no one knows of our exclusionary tendencies, but we are actually easy to spot if you know what to look for: 

  • We prefer to interact only with change agents who share our same biases.
  • When confronted with other frameworks, we tend to have one or more of these internal reactions, even if our external dialogue is more polite:
    • “It’s overly complicated (or simplistic).”
    • “It has nothing new to offer.”
    • “My approach accomplishes the same thing—only better.”
  • When interacting with advocates of other methodologies, we spend most of our time waiting to talk, rather than being attentive.
  • We are more interested in providing answers than exploring questions; we feel compelled to teach, but have little time to learn.
  • We are comfortable being right, but not being vulnerable.
  • When discussing alternative approaches, we are more assumptive than inquisitive.
  • When asked to share lessons learned, we only discuss what makes us and our approach look good.
  • We have to make an effort to be pleasant when referring to other “obviously inferior” frameworks.
  • We are dismissive of, rather than intrigued by, what other methodologies have to offer.
  • We become bored (if not appalled) during discussions of alternative approaches.
  • We think that practitioners who pursue methodologies different from ours are naïve or second rate. 

Next:The Ups and Downs of the “True Believer”

Posted on: May 04, 2010 01:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Being for One Thing Is Fine Unless You're Also Against Everything Else

“The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye. The more light you shine on it, the more it will contract.” ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

I started writing this blog only five months ago. After 27 postings, I hope my readers have an idea of what to expect. Basically, the blog is geared for experienced change agents who don’t think they have all the answers. It’s for seasoned practitioners who have similar feelings about their profession:

  • They are highly skilled but are more uncomfortable with how little they know than they are impressed by their accomplishments.
  • They are more attracted to their remaining questions than their unquestioned answers.
  • They create value for those they serve, but know deep down there is much more to learn—about transformational change and about providing greater benefits to their clients—and they are committed to exploring these gaps as humble students.
  • They have much to say, but are eager to be part of, listen to, and be influenced by, a community whose collective wisdom is powerful.

With this as the intended readership profile, I’ve brought forward challenges that are familiar to me, which I think other practitioners can relate to as well. The readership has grown steadily and you’ve told me to keep it up. That has been heartwarming; I really appreciate it.

But There’s Something More

We’ve reached a point in the blog’s development where I’d like to say a bit more about my agenda in writing it. I have another layer of purpose, and, once I tell you about it, we’ll be able to draw additional implications from future postings.

Maybe the best way to introduce this new perspective to the blog is to take a cue from members of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the way they introduce themselves at their meetings. Along with their name, they declare a reminder to themselves and others of what they are confronting in their lives.

So, my version of the AA introduction is…Hi. My name is Daryl Conner and I’m a methodology bigot.

Methodology bigots aren’t just enthusiastic about or devoted to a particular approach to change implementation1—we are all but intolerant of frameworks, nomenclature, and styles of approach other than our own. Of course, we don’t often blatantly express this kind of prejudice within the professional ranks. In fact, most practitioners would consider it politically incorrect to say anything patently derogatory toward techniques and procedures outside their own repertoire. It’s okay to publicly “black list” one or two approaches—or even a couple of well-known authors—but any wholesale brush-off of all that’s available in the field outside your own approach would be thought of as unacceptably intolerant.

For this reason, we methodology bigots are usually quite skilled at camouflaging our aversion to anything but our own way of practicing change facilitation. In reality, however, we are actually quite closed-minded about the value of perspectives that run counter to our own. We give lip service to other approaches, saying they “have their place,” but what we really mean is that we think “their place” is nowhere near where we practice our craft. 

For those who think I’m overstating the case or being unnecessarily harsh, I beg to differ, so please read on as I state my case. Yes, I could have used a less provocative term than bigot. Some readers might prefer I say that these practitioners simply demonstrate a strong preference for a specific change framework, or that they are just overly opinionated about their method, or that they are merelydevotees to a specific approach to change. Catering to comfort, however, is not on the menu for this blog.

I want to cut to the chase here because circumventing the real issue with more pleasant, non-confrontive language won’t serve us. Methodology bigotry is a reality in the change facilitation community and it’s time to face it head on.

I am not implying that every professional change agent works from such a narrow view—far from it. Many in our field hold well-deserved preferences without being exclusionists. They may be adamant about the positive impact of their chosen approach or express strong commitment to the views of certain influential thought leaders, but they don’t display the inflexibility of the bigot. Plenty of practitioners have aligned themselves to, and are highly skilled in, a particular approach, yet they remain open to other influences. They are able to embrace both ends of the continuum—fully dedicated to one methodology, yet open to alternative ways of thinking and operating.

Strongly held views alone do not constitute bigotry. This term is reserved for those of us in the change facilitation profession who, beneath our politically correct façade, operate within an isolated, self-reinforcing ideology, missing much of the value we could gain from other thought leaders and methodology camps.

Mythology bigots inhibit their own development, and their arrogance hinders the advancement of our entire craft. Unless we expose ourselves to and truly respect the value that lies within the multitude of change orientations that exist, our field is doomed to live out its existence as a fractionated, war-lord-dominated battle of wills, where egos are more important than serving the organizations and transformations we claim to support.

It’s time we take a different course.

Next: The Signature Pattern of Methodology Bigots

1 Throughout this series, when I refer to “a particular change methodology” or “a specific approach to change,” I mean either a single framework that change agents adhere to or to the several frameworks they often rely on to formulate an integrated way of executing change. I’m speaking to the practitioner’s preferred way of addressing change, whether that is a solitary methodology or a unique combination he or she has forged.

Posted on: April 29, 2010 05:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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