What’s Your Stance?

So let me ask you this.” an acquaintance of mine said one day, “do you want to make money or change the world?

Without hesitation I replied, “change the world” to which he responded by looking at me like I had 12 heads.

Over the years I’ve developed a stance of helping people make sense of change and if I can help someone become aware of more effective ways to manage work and people, I’ve done my job well.   My measure of success is when I get thanked or when I help someone either change their crappy organization or change their crappy organization.

The first event that helped me shape my stance was AYE.  I vividly remember so many events from AYE 2008, one of which was Jerry Weinberg’s session on how to say no.    He started with getting everyone to say no aloud.  We all did and then he replied, “was that so hard?”.

In that session he asked someone to tell a story when they said yes to something they wanted to say no to including what happened.  What was amazing about that session was Jerry’s stance, or at least my perception and observations about his stance, of holding the space.  He did very little talking and created a space for learning to occur by asking powerful questions.

Another event was my one-on-one with Esther Derby when I was trying to figure out how I could make the organization I was with “more Agile”.   I remember her saying “remember, it isn’t about you.”

I could write a book about the other experiences I had there as well as the next 3 AYE’s I would end up attending.

Over the years I learned that Agile isn’t so much about Agile at all.  It’s about change and I’ve spent most of the last couple of years developing my stance for helping organizations better manage work and people with Agile practices.  For me, it’s about dealing with the stress and anxiety caused by change whether it be evoked internally or externally.   I’ve made the mistake of putting the emphasis on Agile processes, practices, values and principles over the emphasis on simply helping people solve problems with the tools available in the Agile toolkit.  I’ve had more success taking the latter stance and I realize sometimes a different stance is necessary.

I recently presented at The Art and Science of Change and that opened my mind to the stance that people in the change management world seem to take when approaching transformational change.   There were many discussions around 12-step plans to transformational change, how to schedule and budget for transformational change, how to deal with resistance and how to measure ROI.  Perhaps that’s why 70% of change initiatives fail according to various change management studies over the last couple of decades.

To me, that is a dangerous stance to take because it implies people are linear and there is a direct connection with cause and effect when organizations are going through transformational change.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear Daryl Conner talk about the dangers of progressing down the science aspect of change and using tools and methods alone for transformational change.  His stance was that we, as change agents, need to balance the art and the science.  We, as change agents, need to become chefs, not recipe-following cooks.

Change agents must have a passion for the people side of change and must be passionate about change that matters otherwise we should get off the path and pick a different career.  Daryl defines “change that matters” as change that positively affects the lives of people which I whole-heartedly agree with.

My stance for approaching change is helping people in organizations understand change and how to make sense of it.    Some of my stance can be attributed to who I am as a person.  I’m a helper.  I like helping people see that things don’t need to be the way they are.   Sometimes I feel that’s the best approach, other times I don’t, but overall, my stance is to listen to people, understand the problems they face and how I can help them get past those problems.

Sometimes that means teaching people about different processes like Scrum or Kanban, sometimes that means teaching people how to have more effective meetings.    Under the covers it’s always about listening to the other person.  People don’t like to be fixed and people don’t like change being thrown on them, I’ve yet to see that tactic work in any transformational change I’ve been part of. It might feel good for a while but eventually old habits will return once the shininess of process X wears off.

Your stance is important and there are many models and methods you can pick from including brain-based coaching through to communication coaching and agile coaching.  To me, the most important part of coaching is understanding that, as a change agent, my job is to listen to the organization and its people and take the stance that I feel is the most appropriate.

I’ll leave you with one last story.  Recently I was facilitating a retrospective with a team that was struggling with estimating.  When the time came to decide what to do, I asked them a question: “would you like to brainstorm your own options or would you like me to tell you what I think you should do based on my experience?”  They chose the latter.  The point is, I asked them for permission because I sensed that their experience with agile estimating techniques was low.  I gave them the choice thus reducing the threat response which dramatically increased the energy during the ensuing conversation.

To me, that’s a win and that’s how I approach changing the world, one person (or team!) at a time.