Shifting Change: Insider Tips from Project Leaders

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Today's world is influenced by change. Project managers and their organizations need to embrace and sometimes drive changes to keep up with the pace in highly competitive environments. In this blog, experienced professionals share their experiences, tips and tools to manage and exploit changes and take advantage of them. The blog is complimentary to the webinar series of the Change Management Community Team and is managed by the same individuals.

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Luisa Cristini
Nic Jain
Ruth Pearce
Abílio Neto
Vitaly Geyman
Walter Vandervelde
Steve Salisbury
John ORourke
Wendy Heckelman
Ronald Sharpe
Angela Montgomery
Tony Saldanha

Recent Posts

Actually, we don’t like creativity

Do You Have What It Takes?

Managing Change the Systemic Way

The Character Strengths of a Leader

The best ideas show up after the 'dip'

Actually, we don’t like creativity

If there is one word that has been hot in the business world the last few years, then it is creativity. We like to state with alacrity how important we think it is. A life necessity even, in these times of exponential changes. In many vacancies they are looking diligently for ‘daredevils with ideas’, born ‘out-of-the-box thinkers’ or even ‘rebels and troublemakers’. We nod yes fervently when we listen to lecture number umpteenth by some creative evangelist. And even the chairman of the country’s most archaic union announces with gleeful eyes he wants to play for stakes on ‘fresh new ideas’. Well intentioned. But that façade obscures a bitter truth: we don’t like creativity.

“I want to involve my people, let in some fresh air. I feel something is stirring on our floors, ideas are flying everywhere.” Seldom did I see a more enthusiastic CEO at the other end of the table. And never have I been able to end an intake interview – that customarily precedes any brainstorm session – that fast. ‘How can we make sure we will be the Tesla, Apple or Google of our market within the next three years?’ Talking about an ambitious brainstorm question. Marvelous surely for this almost 130-year-old textile company with deep family roots. “Give them enough pepper, lure them out of their lair. I want them to go through the roof with their ideas.” The childlike sincerity with which he said it was almost moving.

And so it happened. It was really not that difficult to bring a group of ten young and more mature enthusiasts to creativity. A bit hesitant in the beginning, but once the ice was broken, we got to a rough sea of spinning ideas fast. Often crazy, but just as often original ideas that warmed everybody’s heart. The energy level did not seem to falter. At the end of the day we were left with a trio of really strong concepts in which creativity and originality reigned supreme. Practice just a little more to be able to present a strong pitch. And then the boss came to listen in…

“Gosh, that is a bit very creative, isn’t it” were the words coming out of his mouth. “But are there also ideas that we can … ehm … realize more easily?” Chilling silence. What should have been a heyday ended in a tragedy. All ideas were put aside carefully. And even small creative downgrades didn’t help. The good man was torn apart and clearly bothered. “It’s a risk I don’t dare take”, he admitted somewhat timidly. And those were the last words spent on the brainstorm.


Avoiding risks, meeting expectations

From recent research at Berkeley University in California it appears that even people who are looking for creativity often respond negatively to creative ideas. So, there you have it, a whopper of a paradox. Some even have named it: the creadox“We view creative people as real heroes”, says Barry Staw, the principal researcher, “They are cheered and celebrated. But what we celebrate is not the creativity as such, but the result of that creativity: the successes.” According to Staw’s research the cause for aversion to creative ideas is that we primarily want to avoid risks. Exactly like in the story above. Insecurity is the downside of creativity, but sadly is an inextricable part of it. Most people hate insecurity and doubt. According to research even so much that they don’t only fear creative ideas, but don’t even recognize those ideas as being creative.

Another reason is our craving for conformity. However, much we in the West believe in values like freedom and independence, we still see a pressure towards compliance with certain (unwritten) agreements and expectations, that transcends those values. We are all mostly ‘satisfiers’ and ‘pleasers’ and this is often at the cost of creativity and originality. In a business context we see this translated to: new and original ideas could offend others (our clients, our boss, our stakeholders), because they don’t correspond with their pattern of expectations. At least, that’s what we think. And again we want to avoid the risk. So, away with it.

And actually this concealed aversion for creativity is not all that surprising. The place where our tender creative ideas should flourish, is the very place where she gets restrained and shoved to the side. Research shows that teachers discriminate creative students highly, to the benefit of students who follow agreements diligently. The cause of this can be found in our educational system itself, that – albeit often one of its objectives – in fact doesn’t know how to deal with creativity. Assessment in our educational system today is still based on exact measurable criteria. For the ‘most important’ subjects, anyway. Creativity, sadly, not being not one of them
.
So, is it all squalor and disease, then? Is there really no place for more creative minds in our Western world? Are they pushed aside out of insecurity, pressure towards conformity and lack of measurable criteria too often? Maybe, but it also has its advantages. At New York’s Cornell University, the effect of (social) rejection on the creative process has been studied. The research shows that people who feel misunderstood or excluded because of their creativity, experience that exclusion as liberating. Precisely because they don’t have to meet expectations and agreements anymore and therefore can give full vent to their creativity.

But the biggest consolation is this: the most brilliant creative minds from our history were labeled crazy and out of touch with reality. Examples a plenty: Pythagoras, Galilei, Michelangelo, Edison, Oppenheimer, Tesla, and so many others. Also the work of a whole lot of Nobel Prize winners had been reject for a long time. Maybe for a lot of creatives the pain of misunderstanding and rejection are the very reason why they persevered. World sized ideas need time to permeate.

Posted by Walter Vandervelde on: October 14, 2019 02:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Do You Have What It Takes?

Scenario

You have been invited to participate in an exciting new corporate initiative but are unable to attend the initial planning meeting where project roles will be discussed and assigned. The next day an email is delivered to your inbox with the meeting minutes. You eagerly scan the email looking for your name and role. To your horror you were assigned to the role of change manager. “Oh no”, you say to yourself, “I am a project manager. I am not a change manager. I don’t know anything about being a change manager.”

You contact the project sponsor and she responds that, from her perspective, there is no difference between a project manager and a change manager and you just need to deal with it.

What do you do now? Is it time to update your resume and change the status on your LinkedIn profile to “Open to New Job Opportunities”?

Fear not, being a change manager is not that bad and in the end you may actually enjoy it. But, first you need to understand what it takes to be a change manager and how it differs from project management.

The purpose of this article is to determine if you have what it takes to be a successful change manager.

Difference between Project and Change Managers

There is a significant difference between project and change managers. Project management is all about structure and delivering a solution. It focuses on following a methodology that includes phases, budgets, assignable tasks and deliverables. A project manager identifies risks/issues, tracks due dates, schedules meetings, generates reports and communicates with the stakeholders.

Change management is about adoption. It focuses on the people impacted by the change initiative and their willingness to accept and execute the necessary behaviors for the changeA change manager focuses on creating a sustainable change in behavior and integrating the new business processes into the organization.

Analytical Versus Creative

Change managers are primarily responsible for preparing and supporting individuals, teams, and organizations when they are impacted by a change. Change can be defined as anything that is introduced into an organization (realignment, emerging technologies, new processes, products or services) which affects the status quo or routine activities of the workforce.

Change managers lead the change initiative. Like project managers, they guide the work effort, develop and execute the communication activities, schedule and lead meetings, document everything and execute strategies to manage the change.

Two of the more important skills required to be an effective change manager is the ability to analyze information and be creative in the execution of a solution. Change managers need to combine the change process (analysis) with design (creativity) to ensure that the initiative is driven forward in a structured manner. This is also necessary to ensure that the perspective and concerns of the impacted parties (stakeholders) are incorporated into the solution that accomplishes the ultimate organizational goals.

The following table highlights the analytical and creative skills of a change manager.

Analysis

Creativity

  • Focus on the details, adhere to the schedule and document all of the tasks.
  • Review all issues and data points to confirm that the real organizational problem is being addressed.
  • Monitor timelines, deliverables and due dates.
  • Review the issues from each stakeholder’s perspective.
  • Ensure that the change management plan tasks are being completed on-time and within budget.
  • Understand how the change is incorporated into the organization’s overall strategic initiatives.
  • Keep the team focused on the details and the task deadlines.
  • Encourage honesty in the stakeholder interview process.
  • Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of all participants.
  • Build trust relationships with all stakeholders.
  • Schedule communications and status review meetings on a regular basis.
  • Confirm that the needs and concerns of stakeholders are being addressed.

Change Management Skills Profile

To be a successful change manager, a person needs to be both analytical and creative. Normally, these are two diametrically opposed skills. People are either detailed-oriented (ex: Accountants) or artistic (ex: Marketers). Change managers are required to have both skill-sets because they need to ensure that the initiative is driven forward in a structured manner (using a change management methodology), but they also need to understand that the solution has to be accepted and supported by the organization, especially by the impacted employees.

Use the following chart to see if you have what it takes to be a change manager. Give yourself one (1) point for every “yes” answer.

Skill

Yes/No

  1. Do you focus on the details of an initiative; thrive on creating and adhering to a schedule; and documenting the status of tasks?

 

  1. Do you like to monitor timelines, deliverables and due dates?

 

  1. Do you keep the team focused on the details and task deadlines; confirm dates and costs?

 

  1. Do you clearly define the roles and responsibilities of all participants?

 

  1. Do you schedule communications and status review meetings on a regular basis?

 

  1. Do you review all issues and data points to confirm that the real organizational problem is the one being addressed?

 

  1. Do you understand how the change is being incorporated into the organization’s overall strategic initiatives?

 

  1. Do you review the issues and receive feedback from as many different perspectives as possible?

 

  1. Do you encourage honesty during the interview process?

 

  1. Do you build relationships; confirm that the employee’s needs and concerns are being heard and understood?

 

Total

 

Scoring:

  • If you scored <5; you may want to ask for another role.
  • If you scored 5 – 8; you have potential but focus your efforts so that you are successful.
  • If you scored >8; you have the basis for being a successful change manager.

Success as a Change Manager

So relax, you do not need to look for a new job because you were assigned the role of change manager.  If you understand your skill profile, as well as your strengths and weaknesses, you can be a successful change manager.

Posted by John ORourke on: October 07, 2019 12:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Managing Change the Systemic Way

We live in an age not just of accelerated change but of complexity: we can never underestimate the importance of understanding the interconnections and interdependencies that underpin everything we do. That is why at Intelligent Management we look at everything through a systemic lens. This includes managing the process of change. 

How do we do it? The Deming cycle of Plan, Do, Study, Act is an ongoing process of improvement and innovation that any organization needs to embrace to face complexity and remain competitive. The Thinking Processes from the Theory of Constraints provide a solid, systemic analysis and roadmap of what to change, what to change to, and how to make the change happen.

Why Change? Because our reality hurts and we need to something about it

When our reality is biting us, it’s a signal that we need to do something. The cycle of Thinking Processes we use with the Decalogue approach to managing change starts by listing the things that are hurting. In the Theory of Constraints these ‘symptoms’ are called Undesirable Effects (UDEs). We may have no desire to change, but the UDEs are a prompt that make us aware of a need to change. The Undesirable Effects we experience are the result of the network of relations we are part of and that naturally evolve, whether we like it or not. In network theory, these would be referred to as ’emergent properties.’

Thinking Cause and Effect

Though some people may try, it is ineffective to adopt a ‘whack-a-mole’ attitude to cope with our Undesirable Effects one at a time. The reason for this is that each Undesirable Effect is interconnected as a symptom of an underlying cause. Whether we can do something about the cause or not, we need to change because that cause may in time severely limit our ability to achieve goals that are critical for us. That cause is what is blocking us from achieving more towards our goal. It becomes our constraint, and as Dr. Goldratt used to say, you can ignore the constraint, but it won’t ignore you. We need to learn to understand cause and effect, i.e. to recognize the effects we experience, and link them to their cause.

The need for systemic intelligence to cope with change

Goldratt created the Thinking Processes to fortify in people the ability to reason cause-and-effect. This is a daunting task because our mind simply does not work that way. In our daily lives, most of the time we “re-act” instead of acting and we very rarely understand the full spectrum of the consequences of our “re-actions”. But change is something that can be achieved. We just need to understand that it is a process, and that process goes through various phases, or levels of resistance.

Level 1: Disagreement about the problem

To tackle this level we must identify the cause of the majority of negative or undesirable effects that are being experienced. This can be done very effectively and quite swiftly through the ‘Core Conflict Cloud’.

Level 2: Disagreement about the direction of the solution

The direction of the solution is found by identifying solutions (called “injections” in TOC) to the core conflict. 

Level 3: Lack of faith in the completeness of the solution

A fully fleshed out solution needs to be mapped out. For this reason we build a ‘Future Reality Tree’. This process gathers together all the “injections” with a supporting logic to prove that the proposed changes will bring results. 

Level 4: Fear of negative consequences generated by the solution

People will be sensitive to possible negative implications they perceive for themselves through the implementation of the solution. The Thinking Process for this is called Negative Branch Reservation.

Level 5: Too many obstacles along the path that leads to the change

At this level, it is vital to be able to address and overcome the obstacles people see and the process for this is called an Intermediate Objective. All the necessary Intermediate Objectives (IO) can be mapped out on a ‘Prerequisite Tree’ in a logical order of what needs to be done first before another IO can be achieved.

Level 6: Reservations about our ability/willingness to implement the solution (and about the

ability/willingness of others)

To be able to carry out the projects that bring the new reality, there must be complete clarity on tasks. This is a critical phase in terms of leadership and can be greatly facilitated by giving and sharing clear instructions through the use of the ‘Transition Tree’.

The Human Constraint

Change is not just about doing things differently. It’s about thinking differently in order to make change possible. Many efforts to bring change fail because they do not address the cognitive challenge. This is what we have come to call the Human Constraint. When we educate ourselves to think and act systemically, we become capable of so much more than we imagine. As Einstein put it, “Those who think it’s not possible shouldn’t disturb those who are doing it.”

Angela Montgomery, PhD Intelligent Management Inc. Canada

 

 

Posted by Angela Montgomery on: September 30, 2019 12:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

The Character Strengths of a Leader

One of the wonderful things about character strengths is that although we all have all 24, and they are a common language that lets us express our understanding and appreciation of each other’s qualities in a straightforward way, we do nevertheless express each strength uniquely.

This combination of similarity and difference is what makes character strengths so powerful. They both connect us and differentiate us at the same time.

Nowhere is this more apparent than when you speak to people who are leaders and to the people whom they lead. It is not uncommon to encounter expectations about what a leader will look like, what strengths they will have at their fingertips. We may even expect them to have superhuman capacities that translate into many signature strengths – more than your average person. One person even asked me once whether to be a good leader you needed to get all 24 strengths to the top level.

And of course, the most common preconception of all is that in order to be a leader, we must have the strength of Leadership as a top strength.

Will the Real Leader Please Stand Up?

In reality, it is not the case that every leader or even every good leader has leadership as a top strength. On average across populations, Leadership is a strength that shows up squarely in the middle of the average profile[1]. As with any of the strengths, there are people with Leadership higher than average, but that does not automatically make them a leader.

What we do know is that effective leaders recognize, acknowledge and cultivate the strengths of the people they lead[2]. They play to strengths and recognize that as leaders their job is not to know all the answers, or even provide all the structure and guidance. Their job is to create an environment where their teams flourish and can be their best selves.

Over the years, I have been able to look at the character strengths profiles of many people in leadership positions, and what I find time after time is not that they are high in leadership, but that they know their top strengths and they use the strengths that are at their fingertips – their signature strengths – to be the best they can be. One person actually took their signature strengths and explained how they blended together to make them someone that others took for a leader[3].
Reproduced with permission from Be a Project Motivator[4]
As she reviewed her top strengths of Appreciation, Bravery, Curiosity, Fairness, Gratitude and Humor, she was able to explain how each of those strengths contributed to building trust and empathy, helped her to perform the functions of a leader such as paying attention, showing respect and being willing to learn – including the hard ones like having difficult conversations – and created a safe environment for her team.

Finding your pathway to Leadership

Interesting preliminary research[5] has shown that there are some promising correlations between seven core team roles and specific character strengths. For example, the role of Decision Maker correlates with Zest, Hope, Bravery, Perseverance, and Leadership. Most people will not be surprised at the last strength, but all these strengths individually and together represent pathways to be a Decision maker – the person who is “energized by analyzing information from various perspectives, weighing evidence, applying logic, and choosing a fruitful course of action.” For most people that would be a leadership role!

The secret to character strengths is to discover your personal profile and your unique way of using those strengths. Does your kindness get used at work to help colleagues, or at home with family to support them as they make their way through life or in your community as you help people facing personal challenges? Do you show your kindness with a hug and understanding when someone is in pain or by doing something practical to help? Does your bravery show up when you get comfortable with being uncomfortable in accepting a personal challenge, or when you speak up for others against a crowd, or you stand by a loved one in the face of criticism from family? And how do those two strengths show up together?

As basic building blocks of personality, your character strengths are the same as mine, the same as a loved one’s, the same as those of your boss. What makes you you is how you use them and blend them and show them to the world. And that is as unique as your thumbprint.

How will you use YOUR top strengths to set you apart today?


[1] Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2006). Character strengths in fifty-four nations and the fifty US states. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(3), 118-129. doi:10.1080/17439760600619567

[2] See for example Lavy, S., Littman-Ovadia, H., & Boiman-Meshita, M. (2016b). The wind beneath my wings: The role of social support in enhancing the use of strengths at work. Journal of Career Assessment.

[3] Pearce, R. (2018). Be a project motivator: Unlock the secrets of strengths-based project management. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

[4] Be a Project Motivator, p124

[5] Ruch, W., Gander, F., Platt, T., & Hofmann, J. (2016). Team roles: Their relationships to character strengths and job satisfaction. Journal of Positive Psychology. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2016.1257051

Posted by Ruth Pearce on: September 23, 2019 06:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

The best ideas show up after the 'dip'

If you think brilliant ideas just simply drop out of the sky, you are wrong. A recent scientific study of Brian Lucas and Loran Nordgren shows that the best ideas actually occur only after the ‘dip’. So creativity is far and foremost a matter of persistence.

During my career as a designer many years ago, I often experienced this. Long hours, evenings and sometimes even nights in which you are toiling for that ‘reasonably well’ concept for the customer, to bring that ‘ok it is a nice idea and it does have something’ to a higher level. Because it was supposed to be brilliant, great, original. And I knew it would come, I only didn’t know when this Eureka-moment would pop up. So you keep working, choose a new path, try to find inspiration in even the smallest things. And when you entirely have lost faith and have reached your ‘dip’, you take a break. But even during these short moments, the engine keeps running at full speed. And then it pops up, totally unexpected. And I knew, after all these years, it always would. It was that knowledge that, again and again, gave me the power to go on.

And now — finally — this knowledge has been scientifically proven. Through a series of experiments Lucas and Nordgren demonstrated that people systematically underestimate the number of ideas they can generate to solve a problem. They started by asking a couple of students to come up with as much recipes as possible for a Thanksgiving Dinner. After this test, the students had to estimate how much more ideas they could come up with if they would continue for another ten minutes. On average, the students thought they could come up with ten more recipes, but the reality showed it was often more than fifteen.

A similar test was done with other groups of people: stand-up comedians were asked to come up with punch lines for a joke, adults had to invent slogans for a product and another group of people needed to generate ideas to raise money for a charity project. In each and every one of these tests, the participants underestimated how many ideas they could come up with after their first ‘dip’.

After every study, the researchers asked another group of people to judge the quality of the ideas. The result was even more surprising… The best ideas were the ones that were generated after the ‘dip’. So this means that persistence does not only generate significantly more ideas, but the quality of these additional ideas is even higher than the first batch of ideas.

And still, we give up so easily. Not that surprising, because creative challenges are often perceived as very difficult. A lot of people consider themselves not to be very creative and are, because of that, convinced that after the dip the stream of ideas has entirely dried out. Hard labour and final failure on a non-creative task — for example a technical problem — often means that you need to quit. There often is only one solution, and if that solution doesn’t work, there’s simply no alternative. But with creative issues, more solutions are possible. Which is difficult to understand for most people who have a linear thought process.

‘Quantity breeds Quality’, Alex Osborn — the founder of modern-day brainstorming — already stated in the early sixties. And he was fully right! Finaly some small tips to give your unborn and potentially brilliant ideas the chances they deserve:

  • Ignore your first instinct to quit early. Know that the best ideas will only pop up after the dip, especially in the first phases of the process. Just try to generate some additional ideas or come up with some alternatives, or build on the things you already have. You will see that the stream of ideas will quickly start to flow again.
  • Remember that creative idea generation is per definition not easy. Everybody will reach that point in time where it seems impossible to find new ideas. That is part of every creative process. Just remember that persistence will be richly rewarded.
Posted by Walter Vandervelde on: September 16, 2019 01:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)
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