Change Thinking

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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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Herding Strong Egos

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

It takes a strong ego to be a successful change agent (it’s not a role for the timid), yet it is this very ego that can pull us over to the dark side of professional arrogance. What can temper our self-confidence enough so that we sustain the inner strength we need, but maintain mutual respect among the different approaches? In my experience, three things can help keep strong egos in alignment with, instead of against, each other.

  • Common Goals—The various methodologies we represent have different tools, techniques, and nomenclature, but they are all trying to accomplish the same thing…successfully executing change initiatives within the organizations we serve.
  • Criticality—Certainly not all, but some portion of the endeavors we help implement have real and lasting impact on those affected. These are the projects intended to create positive outcomes and/or minimize the negative implications for people we care about. These are the change initiatives that really matter. Their successful execution isn’t just a good idea—we need to bring our best game to the table and do all we can to ensure the desired results are achieved.
  • Interdependence—Sharing the same bottom line (common goals) and acknowledging that there are significant consequences for the success or failure of certain changes (criticality) both represent important reasons for strong personalities to come together. However, these are necessary, but insufficient, elements for corralling robust methodology-based egos. In fact, with only these two in place, the attitude could easily be, “We cannot afford a misstep with these initiatives, so if you’ll just move aside, me and my approach will get this done.”

For strapping egos to stay in check and truly relate to each other as representing different but equally viable methodologies, the parties involved must acknowledge that they can’t unilaterally provide all that’s needed.

This is the tough one. It’s one thing to agree that we are after the same kind of successful implementations and that it really matters whether or not some of the changes are realized. It’s a very different requirement, however, to have to recognize and openly declare that one’s chosen approach doesn’t have all the answers, and that only through genuine collective learning across frameworks will it be possible for practitioners to deliver on all their execution promises.

This is not a call to abandon our separate methodology preferences or proprietary brands. Synergy requires differences in perspectives or 1 + 1 > 2 can never materialize. Nor is this a plea for the elimination of healthy competitiveness among the various approaches. The distinction I want to draw here is between being competitive and being adversarial.

Spirited competitiveness fosters needed individual and collective learning. However, methodologies that are antagonistic toward one another (even if veiled as polite disregard) are ill-prepared for client challenges requiring more than one approach or more than a single practitioner’s experience can address.

I’m sure you know of examples where practitioners have transcended their competitiveness to create opportunities for mutual appreciation of their respective methodologies. (Please share any you think would be of interest to our readership.) I’ll offer up one—it’s a European collection of innovative individual change practitioners led by Holger Nauheimer  (www.change-facilitation.com).

Inclusiveness and the honoring of multiple methodologies is at the heart of this change agent community. Holger and his partners have their own change practice with their own preferred methodology, yet he has created something called the Change Journey—a generic process that allows participants to utilize any set of concepts, tools, or techniques they find helpful. It doesn’t promote any single viewpoint; it supports all approaches to executing change (www.changejourney.org).

So, even though Holger and his firm use a proprietary set of frameworks themselves, they have also developed a methodology-agnostic mechanism that can be used as a learning tool for any practitioner’s chosen framework. I highly recommend you check out what they are doing. It’s a wonderful example of how we can both remain true to our biases and avoid the trap of becoming overly promotional or unnecessarily protective of our own approaches.

I’ll close out this series with a couple of questions for all of us:

  • Are we ready to recognize that our chosen methodologies may not always have all the answers?
  • Even more challenging, are we ready to admit that maybe a “competitor” actually has a better way of addressing something than we do?

How can we even entertain such questions if some part of us (even a small part) has fallen victim to the shadow side of our commitment to a preferred approach. The only way to manage the potential bigotry in all of us is to shed light on the dark region of our methodology loyalties (note how shadows disappear when exposed to light).

It is only human to have such latent tendencies. The inclinations themselves aren’t problematic. It’s through our denial that such affinities might exist in us that they are given the opportunity to manifest. Our task, our responsibility, is to face the methodology bigot in all of us, regardless of how prominent or concealed, and minimize its chance of becoming any more than a dormant demon we attend to on a regular basis.

Posted on: May 20, 2010 10:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Question Isn’t “If,” It’s “To What Degree?”

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

In this series, I’ve been trying to challenge all of us to search out any tendencies of the methodology bigot that we might harbor. We’d rather not admit it, but we probably all have some elements buried inside us. It is hard to be fully dedicated to an approach and avoid crossing the line into disregard, if not intolerance, of alternative perspectives.

No, you’re probably not a full-blown dogmatist as characterized by all the attributes I have described. Neither am I, but that’s not the point. The question for us is not, “Am I a methodology bigot?” The more poignant challenge is, “Is it possible that some of these tendencies might be lurking beneath the surface and inadvertently show up in how I relate to approaches other than my own?”

You’re probably safe in assuming that you’re not as atrocious as the sum total of all the negative characteristics I’ve described in this series, but that still leaves open the issue of how many, how often, and to what extent some of these difficult-to-admit inclinations are in play. If being a 100% bigot is both unlikely and too reprehensible to contemplate…is matching 80% of the profile within your tolerable range? No? Well, what about displaying only 50% of the characteristics? Is that acceptable? Still too high? How about 30%, or maybe 15% of the bigot’s narrow mindedness…would either of these ratios be respectable enough for you?

If you’re like most of us, you’ll say none of the bigot’s leanings are acceptable, and yet, if we don’t acknowledge that we have some of these impulses—at least at the unconscious level—we are more prone to fall prey to them. This is the shadow, or dark side, of being committed to a particular way of approaching change implementation. With the benefits of strong allegiances, there is the vulnerability of exclusionary thinking. It comes with the territory. Rather than deny that these biases exist, it’s best to accept that some of the tendencies are at least latent in all of us, and that continuing to surface them is the best course of action. Pretending that we could never be a host for such a foul temperament only increases our susceptibility to it.

The solution isn’t to abandon our well-deserved devotion to whatever approaches we have formed attachments to. The last thing we want to do is lose the differentiations the various methodologies offer. Alternative frames of reference about implementing change is the grist on which creativity depends.

 Varying perspectives aren’t a problem unless they become a justification for discounting and disregarding each other’s views. This is when healthy differences cross the line and enter the prejudice-filled world of bigotry. The secret lies in cultivating different frames of reference that pay tribute to each other, not that hold each other in contempt.

What will foster our own development as practitioners, as well as advance our profession’s collective wisdom, is a virtuous balance—steadfast belief in and support of our respective preferred methodologies, while we honor and learn from other approaches. There is nothing inconsistent about being an aficionado of one approach while also being a student of several others.

There is no reason to withdraw any of our allegiances. We just need to ensure we remain not only open to but actively in pursuit of ways our separate strategies and tactics for implementation can inform and strengthen each other.

Next: Herding Strong Egos

Posted on: May 18, 2010 12:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Take Your Medicine Whether You Feel Sick or Not

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

Many reading this series on the methodology bigot’s mindset may be appalled at the notion such thinking could survive in this age of enlightenment, much less within the civilized, savvy field of change management. Some may think that if this kind of partisan judgment does exist, it must be limited to a small minority. I’m not suggesting that methodology bigotry is universal among change practitioners, but it’s far more prevalent than is healthy for our individual development, or the general maturation of our field. In fact, this kind of prejudice has become pervasive precisely because, for the most part, practitioners are unaware it has taken up residence within themselves and within our ranks. And a problem unrecognized usually means  a problem in unabated growth mode.

Methodology bigots don’t wake up in the morning and say to themselves, “It’s a good day for narrow, restrictive thinking.” I certainly never considered myself among those fitting the description. In fact, looking back at earlier times, I would not have reacted well to anyone even suggesting I was a methodology bigot. I might have characterized myself as confident in what my years of experience had taught me, but never arrogant. As far as approaches to change that differed from mine, I had no problem acknowledging that there were other sound methodologies. (However, I would have added that none were as solid as what I used.)

Oh, I might have owned up to being a bit more unwavering in my views than some practitioners, but I would have attributed that to having decades of experience in change work instead of years. (And I’m reminded that “cantankerous” is the word commonly applied to those of us with more grey hair than patience!) Even so, at some point, I realized that the enthusiasm I had for my own approach had crossed over into a subtle, but nonetheless pejorative, attitude toward approaches not consistent with mine. 

It doesn’t matter whether it’s an unconscious impulse or an intentional, blatant disregard for other perspectives—the result of this kind of parochialism is always the same. Believing there is only one best way to execute change to the point that other approaches are relegated to the “inconsequential” file does a disservice to us, our craft, and our clients.

One can afford the luxury of self-righteousness if the implications for doing so are immaterial, but when people we serve and care about are affected by significant change, we must consign our egos to a status lower than our desire to serve, and bring our best game to the table. The best we can provide is unlikely to be reflected in a single, pedestrian  view of how implementation should be orchestrated.

What’s the point here? There is too much at stake to assume any of us is free and clear of the repercussions I’ve been describing. The only safe way to proceed with the implications of methodology bigotry is to correct for it even if you don’t feel vulnerable to the problem (maybe, in particular if you don’t feel vulnerable to the problem).

Allow me to stop again and give a voice to the cynics who are saying to themselves, “All this is fine, Daryl, but even if I agree that there is more methodology bigotry in our professional community than I might have realized, I can’t relate to how this kind of narrow-mindedness applies to me. Maybe this is how some practitioners think of their approach compared to others but it certainly doesn’t represent me or anyone I know.” 

My response: “I’m glad to hear that you haven’t fallen neatly into the methodology bigot profile, but I’ll offer a word of warning before you become too smug. Seldom do even the most provincial of practitioners operate this way completely or all the time.”

The question isn’t, “Do you or don’t you meet the criteria?” If you accept my premise that we probably all have some degree of predisposition for being overly confident and restrictive in our views toward our preferred methodologies, a more penetrating inquiry is, “What do you consider an acceptable amount of intolerance to be toward approaches other than your own?” 

Most practitioners say that even a hint of methodology arrogance is unacceptable, yet there is ample evidence that exclusionary thinking is in abundant supply within the practitioner community. They are usually subtle about it and when they do express prejudices, most change agents don’t discount all other approaches all the time. Even so, this kind of discrimination can be at its most caustic and damaging when dispensed with a casualness that hides it. The bottom line is, most of us spend a lot more time talking to ourselves or to other change agents who think like we do than we do engaging in respectful discourse with practitioners who come at change implementation in ways different from ourselves. 

Next: The Question Isn’t “If,” It’s “To What Degree?”

Posted on: May 15, 2010 11:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

We Have Met the Enemy and It Is Us

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

The first step toward recovery for any of us who might have fallen into the “pit of arrogance” is to acknowledge the problem.

One of the reasons AA is so successful is that its members know first-hand the challenges of alcoholism. They also know all the ways people can kid themselves into thinking their problem is under control when it’s not. No one can be as supportive or as brutally honest with an alcoholic as another alcoholic can.

It is from this perspective that I am both empathetic and confrontive toward methodology bigots. I am one. (Yes, you read correctly. I used the present tense).

As with many deep-seated dysfunctions, healing from this destructive mindset is not a destination, it is a journey. Change methodology bigots don’t have a slight inclination toward one view—they insist that there is only one best and right way to deal with organizational transitions, and that, of course, is the method they adhere to. I spent many of my years as a professional change facilitator carrying this attitude (sometimes covertly, sometimes blatantly).

I began practicing our craft in the early 70s, when change management was just beginning to emerge as a formal designation. Much has unfolded in our field since then. In retrospect, it’s debatable whether there was ever a time methodology protectionism was justified. What is clear for me now, however, is that with the magnitude of change accelerating as dramatically as it has, holding exclusionary views about alternative approaches just doesn’t make sense. No single perspective can keep up with, much less adequately address, the advancing sophistication of the transformations our clients face.

I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling the need to promote an ecumenical rather than parochial way of thinking about change implementation. This series is meant to encourage all of us to move away from any separatist views we might have, and toward a wider, deeper acceptance and respect for the array of change execution approaches now available.

Oh, I can hear the naysayers: “Daryl, maybe you had a need to be more open to new ideas about change facilitation, but I’ve always been there and so have the colleagues I work with.” Well, I would have said the same thing at an earlier time. I never thought of myself as a methodology bigot, but I have come to realize that we all need to collaborate to a much greater degree if we are to deal with the accelerating change demands inundating the world. Maybe in the past this wasn’t the case, but by today’s standards, many of us are still far too insular and self-referencing. 

The need for openness to new ideas is relative to the level of challenge being faced. Within the context of past change demands, a case can be made that none of us were methodology bigots. Today’s measure of disruption, however, calls for many more creative partnerships among the different approaches and far more sharing of lessons learned across what has been historically impenetrable boundaries. My hope is that we’ll all reconsider how receptive we are to what others are learning about facilitating change.

Easier Said Than Done

We can reshape tendencies, and even some habits, relatively quickly, but pigheadedness is a different animal. Because of the depth of the problem, circumscribed thinking doesn’t disappear simply because someone recognizes it for what it is. Nor does it evaporate as soon as one makes a decision to stop operating that way. Methodology bigotry is like one of those exotic parasites from some God-forsaken country…once you get it, it’s yours for life to either manage or not.

Deep prejudice of any nature, once embedded, is virtually impossible to eradicate. Awareness, insight, and commitment to a new course of action will certainly reduce, if not eliminate, many of the visible symptoms, but not necessarily the underlying problem.

It’s hard enough to form alternative frames of reference and priorities, along with their accompanying behaviors, but ingraining new mindsets requires years of repetition. Take it from a card-carrying recovering methodology bigot—the transition is not easy or fast. It is something you must always be vigilant about; it does not automatically go away with just an epiphany.

Next: Take Your Medicine Whether You Feel Sick or Not

Posted on: May 14, 2010 11:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Ups and Downs of the "True Believer"


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

Methodology bigots are “true believers” in the worst sense.

There are many positive and admirable aspects to being not just a supporter, but a disciple, of a particular methodology of change. Here are two examples:


        
  • The enthusiast has a loyal conviction to his or her methodology, which  fosters effective application of the concepts and techniques.

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  • He or she is willing to penetrate deep into the crevasses and nuances of an approach to search out the hidden treasures.


As wonderful as this kind of dedication can be, there is a down side to being a true believer: The practitioner can become so adamant about the singular correctness of his or her approach that other methodologies are considered unworthy.

Herein lies the essence of the Methodology Bigot Syndrome, and the reason it’s so debilitating to the individual practitioner (and ultimately, to our profession). Chauvinists of any persuasion aren’t just gung-ho for something, they are ardently against anything outside their belief system. This typically presents itself in the zealous promotion and fervid protection of their biases.

Passionate Promoters

We methodology bigots feel justified in, even sometimes obligated to, “spreading the truth” about the superiority of our chosen approach. We subscribe to a “what is true for me should be true for everyone” stance and feel the need to enlist or even convert as many change agents as possible to our way of practicing the craft.

A healthy enthusiasm for one’s chosen path is a natural outcome of positive experiences within a particular methodology. A bigot’s need to persuade others of the virtues of his or her approach, however, goes beyond just hardy eagerness. Our unspoken (and usually unconscious) motivation for enrolling others is that it bolsters our own decision to be a devotee of the chosen approach. “This must be the best way: See how many smart people made the same decision I did?”

Ardent Protectors

Even more revealing is the bigot’s tendency to be so protective of his or her chosen methodology’s views that he or she feels the need to defend against intrusions by the “opposing forces” (other approaches). (Note: If you’re saying to yourself that you would never stoop to such haughtiness, remember, methodology bigotry typically resides beneath our awareness and we usually express it in very politically correct ways.) Methodology bigots typically think of themselves as tolerant, if not embracing, of other methodologies when, at a deeper level, they are actually quite discriminatory. Although they try to camouflage their biases from others, they often end up only concealing it from themselves.

True believers form an interesting paradox for themselves. They are certain their answers are right and others’ are wrong (based mostly on their own experiences and whatever research or empirical evidence they decided to accept as valid). Logic would suggest that such a position of strength ought to create confidence, but instead, insecurity is more often what is displayed. This is never more apparent than when they see other methodologies as adversaries to be defended against.

There is only one reason a person needs protection, and that’s when he or she feels vulnerable. In this case, vulnerability reveals itself when change agents are antagonistic toward other approaches based on a fear (remember, typically unconscious) that exploring alternatives could somehow weaken their confidence in the methodology they use.

This fear of undermining their allegiance to an adopted approach isn’t limited to concerns about actually substituting one methodology for the other. Sometimes practitioners are protective of their preferred concepts and tools because of the time, energy, and money that has gone into their training and/or certification, and the length of time (sometimes years) they have used the approach.

The Danger of Certainty

It’s not easy to invest heavily in something, become convinced of its value, and at the same time remain open to new and different ideas. Yet, someone truly grounded in his or her position usually has little need to put up safeguards against other opinions simply because they are of a different persuasion. In fact, one indication of a person’s self-confidence is his or her interest in exploring alternatives beyond what appears to be “the truth.” I’m not talking about exploring in the sense of, “Let me see how I can demonstrate how right my way is and why yours is wrong (or at least not as affective as mine).” I’m referring to respectful investigation…pursuit of diverse perspectives about change implementation with the expectation that significant value will almost always be the result. In fact, when important new insights aren’t uncovered through this kind of open dialogue, it is a surprise.

Probably the greatest debilitation methodology bigots suffer is when they become certain, rather than knowledgeable. There is an important distinction between these two terms. Knowledgeable practitioners can hold a particular perspective about the change process without shutting off the possibility of new learning. Practitioners who become certain of their craft, however, close their learning borders—there is no more interest in new investigations because they are sure they already have all the answers.

Methodology bigots are certain of their approach as well as themselves, and thus, they shut down their critical thinking. They are the worst kind of true believers…no longer needing to critique what they believe. For them, their methodology is a tightly-woven system that accounts for and explains any implementation-related question or issue that might surface. As such, a self-perpetuating logic loop forms that is difficult to break out of: “Everything of consequence can be addressed through the lens of my methodology so anything unanswered by it is, by definition, inconsequential.” Bigots don’t stop thinking altogether—they just limit their thinking to what is acceptable within their approach’s strongly defended frame of reference. It’s not that searching for new insights is prohibited—it is simply considered unnecessary.

Next: We Have Met the Enemy and It Is Us

 

Go to the beginning of this series.

Posted on: May 07, 2010 02:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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