Category Archives: Opinion

My own observations or experience

Sparking Creativity – How to Get Good Ideas

I had the good fortune to catch Austin Kleon, pitching his latest book and talking about creativity, at Translator in Milwaukee over this summer.  During his talk he posed an interesting question that turns out to be really insightful: Are you a net giver or receiver of good ideas?  

It’s great to share your ideas with others, and there are many good reasons why you should continue to do that, but this is about input.  Are you getting enough new ideas?  We all know the importance of continuous learning – we preach it all the time!  But are we practicing it?

I took Austin’s question to heart.  I thought about my net idea ratio.  I decided to increase my idea input.  A list of suggestions follows.  Some of these came from Austin Kleon, some from me.  Some I was already doing, some I’ve started doing.  Some I plan on doing.

Where can you get ideas?  Give some of these a try:

  • Join the local chapters of professional organization like the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) or the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) or others.  Most offer monthly chapter meetings where you can hear from others outside of your normal circles, and do some networking as well.   Membership in most of these groups’ national organizations will probably get you a subscription to a good magazine too.
  • Just go to the TED website right now and get on their mailing list.  There is so much good stuff on TED that you can spend weeks watching it all.  My suggestion: Find a bunch of stories you want to hear, download the audio or video to your computer, transfer it to your mobile device and listen to it during your commute.
  • Subscribe to a great general interest magazine like Atlantic, Harpers, or Vanity Fair.  They feature very well-written, thought-provoking articles in every issue.  There are lots of others.  Go to the magazine section in your local library or book store and browse a few.
  • Subscribe to professional magazines like Harvard Business Review, or Strategy + Business.  They usually have well-researched, business-related articles.  Magazines such as Wired and Fast Company, if nothing else, will keep you up to date on cutting edge technology.
  • This is counterintuitive, but you should pursue your hobbies and the arts.  Go fishing, build a model airplane – do things that make you happy – that recharge you – and take your mind off of the sources of anxiety in your life.
  • Do things that might inspire you. Go to a museum, or a concert.  Go on an architecture tour in a nearby city.  Go to a national park.
  • Take a walk!  The link between moderate exercise and mental and physical health is well-known.   Plan 20-30 minutes into you work schedule at lunch time to go outside and take a walk.  Try it.  You’ll feel better, and think better, in the afternoon every time.  Make this an “A” priority.  It’s as important, maybe more important, than any meeting you will attend.
  • Use your hands!  This is a great one from Austin Kleon.  Step away from the computer.  Get paper, pencils, color markers, scissors, glue sticks, post-its.  Write, draw, doodle.  Get tactile!

Every organization is trying to foster innovation.  We are all individually challenged to boost our creativity.  These are just a few ways that we can make that happen.   For more ideas, visit Austin Kleon’s website – Steal Like an Artist.



Types of Change Initiatives – Early Conversations to have with Stakeholders

A common complaint that I hear from org change professionals is, “we aren’t brought in early enough on a project.”   However, what I see in practice is that these folks are at the table early enough, the real problem is failure to engage sponsors in the right conversations early enough.  Being consistently invited to the very first kick-off meeting will not change anything.  Focusing sponsors on the issues that will frame the org change effort will!

The goal for any org change leader is to get the impacted population through the transition/neutral zone as quickly and painlessly as possible, to get to the desired productivity improvement.  In other words, minimize the depth and duration of the “performance dip” and sustain the productivity gains.  To clarify these points, please follow this link to read “Why Do We Need Change Management?”

I have seen many varieties of Change Readiness surveys, and Organizational Impact Assessments.  I hate to say it, but I believe that virtually every one I am familiar with is of little or no value.  That’s another blog topic.  

It is essential that early in a project, the sponsor(s) and project leadership understand the type of change being presented by their initiative. 

Three factors to consider

Not all changes are created equal.  I think we all understand that.  Some are the, “just get over it” type, and some need a serious adoption strategy.  I plan on exploring this in depth in the next few months.  There are three big considerations that I see right now:

1.  What is changing?  Culture, Process/Technology, or Strategy/Org Structure

2.  The scope of the change.  Is it Developmental, Transitional or Transformational?

3.  Availability of alternatives to the change.   Is the change optional or is there a workaround?

1.      What is Changing?

What you need to change will have an enormous impact on your change strategy.  Generally, changes to Process and/or Technology are relatively straightforward.  Changes to Strategy and/or Organization Structure (including favorites like downsizing!) are tougher.  Changes to culture…  Well, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” as the saying goes.   I plan on expanding on this section later.  This is a book by itself.

2.      Scope of the Change

The scope of change can be loosely categorized into three buckets; Developmental, Transitional, and Transformational.


After Developmental changes, the impacted population will be doing the same things, only better.  In other words, there will be very little behavior change required.  For example, upgrading Internet Explorer from a well-known version to a new release, or physically moving your workspace from one cubicle to a similar one on a different floor.  Most people will make these types of transition with little or no help.   There is little or no value in dedicating Org Change resources to these kinds of changes.  There is very little “behavior change” necessary and there is no alternative available to go back to.  Everyone will eventually reach the “committed” phase.


After Transitional changes, the impacted population will shift from current state to a known, defined alternate state.  For example, upgrading an Applicant Tracking System for your HR Recruiters.  Many will not make it through transitional changes smoothly without help, and there is risk of a long drop-off in productivity without timely communications, training and support.  

There is significant risk with transitional changes that must be noted.  Frequently, what seems to be a straightforward transitional change can turn out to be a transformational change, and not adequately addressed and resourced.  For that reason alone, applying organizational change resources early will add value.  Pilots or proof-of-concept studies with the impacted population should be considered and encouraged.  They will surface the true nature of your change initiative, as well as help gain buy-in, help with training development, etc.


Transformational change begins with a known current state, but an unknown, or poorly defined end state.   Examples would be integration of an acquired business, or a major business unit reorganization.  During transformational change, there is a high risk of failure to achieve the intended outcomes without a serious organizational change management effort including a robust organizational change strategy, communications, and training and support.  The OC strategy must include visible, committed leadership able to articulate a compelling “heart & head” vision (i.e., we can’t tell you exactly what the final state is, but we can paint a picture for you of what we are trying to achieve).

3.     Availability of Alternatives to the Change

The second thing to zero in on is whether or not there will be any alternatives to the new process in the future state.   In other words, if the impacted population can go back to the old way when they encounter obstacles, they probably will

No Alternatives

Frequently a change will allow for no alternatives, such as a business network administrator upgrading your MS-Office applications.  With no training or communications at all, most users will eventually become comfortable and proficient with the new version.  There may be resistance and frustration initially, but it will eventually subside without any intervention – the adoption rate will be 100%.  Timely communications and training could decrease the depth of, and shorten the performance dip, but the business would not be in jeopardy if it didn’t happen.

 When given the option, it is a good idea to apply the burn-the-boats strategy, a.k.a. the “Cortez” method.  While this may seem harsh at first glance, it is not.  There is compelling evidence that when people do not have an option, they will rationalize the only remaining option and find happiness with it.  If they retain the option to return to the old way they never make the rationalization and remain mired in-transition and unhappy.  See the work of Dan Gilbert on “Synthetic Happiness” on TED.

 In July 1519, his men took over Veracruz:  In order to eliminate any ideas of retreat, Cortés scuttled his ships. [Wikipedia]

Alternative Options Remain Available

Sometimes you must leave a legacy process/system in place while work-in-process runs off, or a manual paper-based process always remains as an alternative to a new automated system.  This is the challenge that most people think of when they think about the purpose of org change management – increasing the adoption rate of a new process.  Adoption rate is a common org change metric.

 Unless there is some overwhelming motivation for adoption when alternatives will remain available, you probably need to apply a robust org change strategy.  E.g., if users are permitted to continue to use legacy system there is high probability that they will return to it when they encounter “resistance” with the new system. 

 When alternatives will be available, your org change strategy must include pilots or proof-of-concept studies with the impacted population to drive “exploration” to identify and mitigate factors that will drive users back to the legacy process.  Mitigation might include providing feedback to the system developers for system modification, or to develop training and communications for deployment.  Measurement and incentive systems are necessary as well.

 More on all of this soon.

Culture and Change Management

Over the last year or so, I’ve had to confront organizational culture as the most significant obstacle to several change initiatives.  If you are reading this, then you’ve probably heard the words, “That’s the way we do things here,” or “That’s the way it’s always been.”  You know what I’m talking about.

Then last week I read an article in Business Week by Jonathan Alter (not someone I ordinarily regard as a “change guru”) that triggered a few thoughts.  Particularly this sentence:

“The stove-piping that hampers so many bureaucracies can’t be busted on paper, only in practice. Organization charts only matter in organizations that aren’t nimble and effective in the first place.”  Read the entire article here

In GE’s Change Acceleration Process (CAP) model, both Leadership and Organizational Systems & Structures are established and functioning on the first day of your project.  I’m now thinking that you need to consider that organizational culture is also established and functioning at project inception, and must be considered on day one, as is leadership and systems & structures.  See the graphic below.

Culture goes beyond leadership, and permeates all aspects of organizational behavior.   When you hear, “That’s the way we do things here,” that’s code for: Several levels of existing leadership have been developed and prospered under conditions like these:

• Lack of accountability, poor performance management
• Bureaucracy, decisions by committee, lack of empowerment, lack of urgency
• Lack of fiscal discipline
• Lax ethical or compliance mindset
A “change strategy” within the scope of your project is NOT going to undo the problems listed above.   Referring back to Jonathan Alter’s comment, I always consider organizational design/structure early in any change project.  It is essential to know what Systems & Structures obstacles you are up against as you get started so you can manage expectations effectively.  Traditionally, I’ve worried about culture later in the project, as behavioral changes required by the change initiative emerged, feeling that cultural obstacles could be overcome with an effective organizational change strategy, like typical technical and political obstacles.  After my experiences over the last year, I have a different persepective.   I am now taking a hard look at organizational culture early in a project, and when I see significant obstacles, I am managing expectations differently.

Change Management Lessons from Abraham Lincoln

january 27, 2013

Another great article about Abraham Lincoln and his leadership abilities in today’s NY Times Business section – “Lincoln’s School of Management.”

“Lincoln’s presidency is a big, well-lit classroom for business leaders seeking to build successful, enduring organizations,” Howard Schultz, chief executive of Starbucks, said in an e-mail. Lincoln, he said, “always looked upward and always called American citizens to a higher road and to a purpose bigger than themselves. He did this by listening carefully to those both inside and outside of his immediate circle and sphere of influence. Listening, always being present and authenticity are essential leadership qualities whether one is leading a country in wartime or a company during a period of transformation.”

November 26, 2012

David Brooks Op-ed in the Nov. 22nd NY Times discusses the new Spielberg movie “Lincoln.” and makes some great points about leadership and change management.   For example, he illustrates how Lincoln did not apply a one-size-fits-all strategy to his influence strategy.  Instead, he understood each individual stakeholder, and crafted an influence strategy for each one.

“Lincoln plays each potential convert like a musical instrument, appealing to one man’s sense of idealism, another’s fraternal loyalty. His toughest job is to get the true believers on his own side to suppress themselves, to say things they don’t believe in order not to offend the waverers who are needed to get the amendment passed.”

Read the entire NY Times article here

Great stuff!  We always think of Lewin, Bridges, Kotter, et al as the big guns of change management.  Who would have thought that the Abe Lincoln was the original!

From March 15, 2012:

I heard a phenomenal piece on NPR tonight on the way home from a client.  If you are even passively interested in the art of change management (or a little interested in history) you must read this!

Lincoln knew that their would be massive resistance to the Emancipation Proclamation.  Read about what he did to minimize that resistance and ensure support.  This is a truly remarkable story.   I will be adding comments about this soon (when I have more time).  I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Click here to go read or listen to the story on NPR/All Things Considered

It did not take any genius to anticipate the backlash that would follow the Emancipation Proclamation, but the clarity of vision, and the “systems thinking” as we would call it today that Lincoln employed to achieve his vision is absolute genius.

“He knew he was going to do [the emancipation proclamation], but he wanted Northern Americans who were dubious about marching toward racial equality to be assured that he was not doing this for the black race. He was doing this for the Union, to reunite the country, to defeat the rebellion…”

So Lincoln has a gathering of prominent African-Americans at the White House, to which he also invites the press, and then proceeds to blame them for the war – in front of the press!

There is a great lesson here.  Clarity of vision and purpose by leadership, and the fortitude to do execute your strategy to achieve the goal – breaking eggs in order to make an omelet, if you will – is the single most important factor in driving change.   Just go to the link and listen, or read it.  More soon.

Maslow’s Heirarchy and Change Management

When I reflect back on my career, and think of significant turning points, this true situation/story always comes to mind.

I was working for a very successful electronics manufacturing company in New York, helping them achieve ISO 9000 certification.  They had several automated PC board lines laid out in parallel in the plant. Each assembly line could be configured to build any product.  They were operated and monitored by predominantly 20-something single guys.   The defect rate on their assembly lines was unacceptably high.  Management wanted to give them more training, “they must not know how to do their jobs!”  To paraphrase  Robert Mager, “If you put a gun to their heads, can they do the job? If the answer is yes, training is not the answer.”  I spent quite a bit of time with them, and was convinced that more training was not going to change anything – they clearly were capable of doing their jobs well.

But what was the problem then?

The teams on adjacent assembly lines spent a great deal of time interacting.  everything from talking sports to the proverbial “grab-assing around.”  In fact, they seemed to place greater priority on the social interaction than the job at hand.

Sure enough – just as Maslow theorized – the need for friendship, social acceptance, and the sense of “belonging” was being fulifilled first while the task at hand was being neglected.  No core human need was being fulfilled.

After making a case to management, each assembly line was given ownership of specific product lines.  The defect rates for each product line were posted prominantly, and an incentive plan was put in place.  Soon the social interaction  was re-focused within the team.  Maslow’s social needs were still being met, but now the teams moved up the pyramid!  The sense of competition quickly resulted in realization of achievement and self-esteem needs which became very powerful motivators.

Take a look at the site in the link below

Rethinking the Core Human Needs.

Lots of perspective on Maslow’s needs.  Very relevant to change management!  Great stuff.  As a colorful reminder – I borrowed this graphic from the linked post – just go to it!

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Resized, renamed,...

A Different Approach to Project Charters

What is a Project Charter?
A project charter is a document that is used to clarify the purpose and plan for a project. There are limitless variations of project charter templates available. All project charters include a statement of the problem to be solved, the goal of the project, the business case and the scope of the project (and may include a high-level process map). Charters may also include the customer(s), a high-level project plan and schedule, key stakeholders, estimated financial benefits, team members and their roles, assumptions and constraints.

Why Should My Team Create a Project Charter?

Well, for two really good reasons…
1. If done well, the content of the completed charter document is a valuable tool for communicating about the project to anyone new to the team, or anyone who suddenly finds themselves more than superficially interested in your project. Very often, senior leaders fall into this category

2. The real value of a project charter (IMHO) is found in the process of creating the document. If done conscientiously, the chartering process will drive the team to consult closely with the project champion and/or customers to ensure common understanding of the why, what, how, when and who of the project.

If you’re anything like the hundreds of people I’ve taught or coached through six sigma projects, you look at creating the project charter as a fill-in-the-blanks exercise that you can do by yourself in an hour so that you can quickly move on to the “real” work. Taking that approach my friend, would be a critical mistake.

Try thinking of your project charter this way.

Someone has the original idea for a project. I.e., they have gathered much information and synthesized many factors. They have an idea that makes perfect sense to them – so much sense that they champion the creation of a team, and support the allocation of resources to it. Somehow this project lands in your lap. It makes sense to you, at least the way you understand it. Now, what do you suppose the probability is that your understanding of the project and the originators idea of the project are the same? Based on my experience with many dozens of projects, I’d say that probability is very small.  That’s why we go throught the chartering process!

Many organizations will go through the trouble of creating a PowerPoint template that must be filled in – as if the purpose of the charter is to pitch! I recommend using a simple text document. It will be much easier to edit, email, paste into other formats, etc. should you need to.

I suggest using plain English headings/section titles that read in a logical fashion. Remember, you already know what this project is about. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is reading this for the first time because they’ve got to come up-to-speed on your project in a hurry.

Suggested Headings:

Here’s what our project is about…
Here’s why it’s important to do…
Here’s what we want to achieve (The Vision)
Here’s what we expect of our team member
How will we accomplish this? (Objectives)
Who are the Customers for this project and what are their requirements?
Critical success factors
How will we measure success?
What is the current plan?

Try this approach to a Project Charter and see if you don’t find it easier to create as well as more useful for your project team.

Leading vs. Managing – The pendulum swings

For many years we’ve been hearing from the HBR crowd that organizations have been overmanaged and underled. I was totally bought into this, and still support Emotional Intelligence and similar practices for leaders.  But recently it has occurred to me that we might really be overled and undermanaged.

When an individual contributor moves into a management role, they take on new responsibilities in addition to their technical expertise.  They now must hire, give feedback and coach, conduct performance reviews, delegate, make decisions for the group, etc.  These are basic skills/responsibilities required of every manager.  My observation is that most managers are failing at these fundamental tasks.

Senior leadership requires monthly/quarterly financial updates, and the entire organization dutifully complies – we would expect nothing less.   If “our people are our greatest resource” as so many claim, why do organizations live with one poorly done performance review per year?   Why don’t we expect monthly, or at least quarterly, people reviews?  Why do we allow the hiring/interview process to be so poorly managed?  Why don’t we do more post-mortems on decisions and delegations.

Furthermore, to what degree does HR, as a profession, enable this?  The HR community (of which I am a part) is always talking about “having a seat at the table” with the c-suite, to be part of the strategy-making process.   I realize that most HR departments are stretched to the breaking point these days, but how about we get the focus back on the fundamentals and get managers managing again.  How about we insist that we abandon the annual performance review process and move to a meaningful quarterly process and tie manager compensation to it being done well.  What might that be worth to an organization?

It’s time we swing the pendulum back the other way and get back to fundamentals – We need really good managers now.  Once they’ve proven their ability to manage well, we can think about their ability to inspire or whatever…