I’ve been in what I call “crunch mode” (or to the team People and Transformational HR Ltd.) Beast Mode (with an homage to former footballer Adebayo Akinfenwa).
It means I’m deeply in work, with clients and partners, and it’s a tad consuming. It’s all good stuff mind, but there’s an immersion to it that means the other things I like to do — read a lot, research, learn, scan and even write — have taken a back seat somewhat.
But what I’m not losing is that thing we sometimes call sensing.
The Cambridge Dictionary says this is:
to feel or experience something without being able to explain exactly how.
It does feel like it’s beyond a cognitive thing we associate with thinking, the hyper-focused process of analysing, and the active state of doing.
Sensing is powerful. It’s a richer, deeper sensation-like state to be in. So I’m telling myself this is a good thing.
What am I sensing then?
- There’s a nervousness, caution, tentativeness and aversion to boldness out there;
- Bureaucracy is tightening its grip rather than loosening up to allow more emergence and exploration;
- Leaders are unsure of the future, need a lot of assurance for now and are in “strategy theatre” mode (not really performing in the strategy field);
- People professionals, whilst tired and overworked, still show determination to build on their 2020–22 responsiveness;
- Many of the pre-pandemic ailments of the work proposition are still there and have taken on new dimensions (well-being, choice, balance, inclusion, fairness, pressure, intensity, fatigue); and the big one for me
- Change is seen as an interference or distraction, just more in the backlog, flashbacks to “we’ve been here before” and “here we go again”, disbelief, tolerance and a general sense of resistance to it.
So my sensing on the change aspect is where I’d like to focus as this is forming some of my crunch at the moment.
We’ve had a “change industry” for some time. I go back to 1985 in starting in the world of work, and since about 1991, change has been a regular, reoccurring thing. Sometimes a terrific advancement and evolution and often, an underwhelming, tiring and ineffective thing. And everything in between.
Since the late 1990s I’ve seen digital technology drive most of our change. Computerisation has become Digitisation and now AI-everything.
I’ve also seen and experienced business process re-engineering off the back of digitisation.
I’ve seen and experienced revised business models and larger changes that form into transformation.
I’ve also seen and experienced ways of working, being, learning and thinking form into change — often labelled as culture change programmes.
And paradigm shifts. Exponential Business Models, Progressive and alternative Organisation Design and a recognition of the more human sides of work coming to the fore of thinking and change.
Change has, and is, changing. Like, duh! Of course, it is.
But this time, it really is.
I’m sensing this:
- Change Programme declarations and infrastructure of a change team running a discreet programme and looking to launch a “new version” of something are met with rolling eyes, scepticism, inertia, and disbelief.
- Relabelling it as a Transformation Programme makes no difference whatsoever. It even creates negative perceptive value and more resistance.
- Outsourcing transformation of change to an army of grey-suited consulting advisors has, is, and continues to be questionable in its effectiveness, risk-transference, capacity creation, and capability building. See Mariana Mazzucato’s book The Big Con.
- Organisation Design, Development and Effectiveness still have much to offer for change but are underplayed, misdirected and flimsily executed.
- Any boldness and pioneering proposed by change becomes sanitised and homogenised and is therefore a pale imitation of the potential it held in conceptualisation. That nervousness of leaders perhaps?
- There are clues lying around for what change really could be, but they aren’t being picked up, assembled for context and utilised to the max.
- Busyness has us in its grip. Change intercepts our short-term demands and gratifying problem-solving. We’re fixing the holes in the boat whilst still paddling away from shore.
- Machine-like replication and utilisation of change models, practices (and project management routines) are failing to address the nuances of each episode of change needing to be clear but emergent, adaptive and responsive. Change Theatre and Strategy Theatre combined is a lethal recipe for failure and lost impact.
- Measures of change and the benefits and value creation are missing the point and poorly constructed with limited — if not zero — psychological and emotional allure.
- The industry of change has nothing to gain from solving the problem of change because it destroys its own reason for being. Instead of evolving, change as a practice field seems content with being more Indy 500 circular racing than the Paris-Dakar rally exploration of new zones, territories and evolutionary practices that need to emerge.
- Change literature appears to hold nothing but sameness and misdirection about how to change change.
What a long list just from sensing. You may agree, vehemently disagree or be somewhere in apathy about it. Welcome to the rest of the world! Change is met with disbelief, low agency, zero energy and excitement and a sense of restrictive covenants and no abundance.
What’s gone wrong with change?
- Have we over-engineered it? Probably
- Have we under-psycho-analysed it? Probably
- Have we gotten used to going with the flow of mediocrity that change inevitably delivers? Probably.
What do we do then?
Adopt the Heraclitus principle — the only constant is change.
That COULD work. But change unseen, is change denied. Gradual, unnoticed change happens all the time. Poor exercise and diet is a change we’re unwittingly and even unwillingly being a part of. Similarly, small, minor incremental daily rituals become habits that we don’t notice and could arrest over-consumption and under-accomplishment.
So if this IS our change tactic, we still need to declare it, vision-plot it, and plan for it — to action it into existence.
Recalibrate and work in Perpetual Beta.
A more thought-leader-esque version of Heraclitus but a sense that we are never a finished article and we’re constantly upgrading our Operating System, apps and through version control, evolving our functionality.
That could also become a thing. Making a mindset shift, being aware of the need to programme upgrades and therefore it comes into being as a task like our core work and other rituals.
Design for fluidity.
Easy to say, not easy to do but possible. Organisation Design and Development hold some keys to being more (Morgan’s Metaphor) organism and/or flux and change. Again, in principle, this would solve quite a bit of the problem of episodic, over-ambitious, under-scoped or fatigue-inducing change. If that were the case though, I’m sure we’d not have as much of a challenge with change itself as we do now. Let alone what change is proposing/hoping to introduce.
Back to sensing and here’s what I’m not only sensing but doing.
Prepare to be underwhelmed:
Change in the flow of work.
See, it’s not that special is it?
Except it is. In its simplicity. We all have a lot of work to do and whilst we’re at it, incrementally and deliberately do some of the change work that’s needed to usher in a new “thing”.
It is though, abstract. Ethereal. Might even be so hidden in plain sight, that we don’t appreciate it or actually do it.
So what it needs (to start with — there’s probably more) is a range of the following:
- Vision. We still need to declare that change in the flow of work is what we’re going to be doing. And to what overall point? A compelling narrative and reason for it all. Otherwise, it’s got no allure, pull or sense of something.
- Infrastructure. This is really important. Where, how, with whom, when and what are we doing that change-not-change is? When it’s a programme it’s clearly delineated. Perhaps too much for many to see it as part of something they’re involved in or need to be aware of. When it’s woven into work it could disappear from view and not even happen. So we make it a thing, but not an interference. So the way you bring it into being is important. And by this, I mean more “open source” working. Like Wikipedia or GitHub. Tasks, workstreams, and projects/initiatives become “things” but are integrated more into the flow of work. Distinct enough, but not distant. If you know John Stepper’s work, it’s working out loud. A work hub, a project management application and some form of cloud-based repository and task/decision management will be needed as part of your approach to working this way. Used by everyone. Monitored and reviewed by everyone. Open Source.
- Roles and ownership. Again, important. So when we declare the vision, some workflow/workstreams will be deliberately set out. Others will be emergent from across the teams/organisations. Whatever the designation, people will be invited to opt in. If they don’t it’s either unclear and needs clarity or not important enough to be worked on. Anyway, in the event the work has appeal and people are keen to explore, develop, deploy and shift things, they are invited to join in with others and make things happen. Spotify’s Squads model has a lot to show how this could be. Ownership is important and perhaps even more so than traditional project management or leadership in the traditional sense of the word. So identifying someone who can own the outputs of the work, and realise the impact, splice it into more replicable ways of doing and being, is important. It will create more dispersal of leadership and therefore doesn’t have to be a rank-based person. Someone with social capital and no manager title can bring in something really effective and powerful. So this would be deemed inclusive by that virtue and talks to the open source nature of programmers who work in sequence without an orchestrating leader as such. But the tech product will probably still have an owner.
- Mission Control. Yes, that’s right. Not a Programme Office. Less bureaucracy and more aggregation and channelled energies. In this open-source way, whoever feels the need and urge can step in to do the “control” without being “controlling”. A Semco Style Institute practice. And with this, the dispensing and revocation of the (supposedly necessary) programme and project office controls and vice-like grips on RAG assessments and products and deliverables that really do have questionable value. The Project Methodology formerly known as PRINCE really does have a lot to offer but more to answer to. A new way to socialise, disperse and have adaptive controlling measures has to be the way. So it's virtualised, shared, needed but not overplayed. It’s worked out with the people involved. It’s important but it’s not the thing we’re delivering, it’s helping with the thing we’re doing. Not hindering. But also not leaving things too much to hope, chance and prayers.
- And most importantly Systems Thinking. Over all of this, we need to be aware that we’re intervening in a system. And to change it, we are doing incremental, sequencing, splicing and upgrading within that system. And when we do that, there’s a bifurcation in our web. What we do has a knock-on effect somewhere else. So we need to be mindful of that and explore and account for the impact elsewhere in our system. If — for example — we want to finally tackle knowledge management and sort out our Sharepoint (!), we need to know that this will have an impact on data security maybe? On where people search and lodge, index and find things. It has an impact on onboarding new people, it needs a systemic response so all people play well with it and that needs comms, guidance, violation exception handling etc. So being consultative, inclusive and open should be enough to provide the mechanism for those others in the system to help us with implications and ramifications and ensure we’re keeping a system balanced, in harmony and aligned to the outcomes we want and others will also benefit from.
So that’s what I’ve been thinking about but more, sensing.
Change has changed but we haven’t changed enough about how we deal with change.
Therefore, we meet change where it’s at. In a highly disordered, highly entropic state; and we match that to bring orderly disorder, mirrored entropic states and when it's right, converge it into ordered, low-entropic states of strengthening and upgrading our operating system and apps.
Change in the flow of work will give you that. Is my sensing.
I’ll leave you with my hero in Systems Thinking, Russell Ackoff