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Some thoughts on dialogue in the context of leading change in digital transformation

Summary: Dialogue and exchange are very common catch phrases used in today’s world of change and digital transformation. With the raise of social technologies in intra-company communications, dialogue and exchange became key drivers and motivators for introducing and motivating adoption of those new opportunities. Looking back on my years in the field I am frequently asking myself: What has to fundamentally change to really accelerate the impact and effectiveness of the new digital opportunities? This short essay contains my thoughts concerning the subject and was triggered by one of the latest TED Radio Hour episodes.

Disclaimer: As mentioned in my section on “Sources of Inspiration”, I get a lot of food for thought from the TED Radio Hour (by npr.org). Listening to one of the most recent shows on “Dialogue & Exchange“, two segments got my thoughts spinning. I need to mention, that what was triggered in my head does not match the actual context of the talks’s content. It’s more an “abstraction” of the two angles on dialogue & exchange.

TAKE 1: Moral Reframing. Manipulating the other side by using a resonating baseline of moral values to win an argument.

In his segment of the TED Radio Hour, Robb Willer and Guy Raz talk about the political divide in the US. Robb introduces the results of a study, in which democrats, republicans & liberals were surveyed on their position towards environmental protection after reading one of three essays. One essay was emphasising the moral values of republicans, one the ones of democrats, one was neutral and simply arguing the case. Republican & democrat participants were leaning towards supporting pro-protection arguments, if delivered in the moral value framing closest to their political position. Liberals would support the subject no matter what.

The study was proof for the method of “Moral Reframing”, in which the other side is persuaded to follow a particular argument, by delivering it through a morally resonating message. I believe, you can safely call that “manipulation”.

What my brain made of this…

Quite a while ago I realised that the saying

Don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you.

by Confucius is slightly misleading. It implies that we all live by comparable values, standards, preferences and ideals. I believe we can all agree, that that’s not really the case. At least I can name you a list of things – business and private – that I don’t want experience, while others would sincerely indulge in them.

Nevertheless, in a lot of change initiatives, the believes of either thought leaders, executives or advisors (or a combination of all three) are used as the driving arguments for change. Based on those believes new strategies are proclaimed, operating models established and IT tools get introduced. In only a very few of those initiatives the drivers really come from the base and represent the broad perspective on challenges, opportunities and options for a way forward. This is exactly the moment, where the arguments fall short and the need for change is only put out there but does not resonate with its audience.

What if we first listened to the ones that have to adopt change and that need to be taken on the journey towards the future? What if we decided to really seek to understand the fundamentals that move the people that we need by our side to really make a change? What if we used the learning from that process and modified the arguments in a “morally reframed way” to persuade people based on their values to come on board and take an active role?

I can hear the shouts of “that’s manipulation!”. But what, if you also apply another Stephen R. Covey habit of “thinking WIN/WIN“? Then the “manipulation” is not harmful but essentially in the best interest of everyone and a good way of getting a larger adoption of behaviour that is required to really make a change.

What if…?

TAKE 2: New challenges for diplomacy + The ability to have a dialogue without trying to convince the other side

Jonas Gahr Støre is the former Minister of Foreign Affairs for Norway. In his TED Talk he is picking up on the raise of intra-country conflicts and the roles of diplomats in a very difficult environment of extremism.  One piece of his talk that triggered a particular thought process in my mind was this chart (screenshot taken from a still of the video on npr.org):

ted_screen

Besides the fact that this is a massive challenge for diplomats that are trained to solve INTER-conuntry dispute, I suddenly asked myself: might it be the case that corporate leaders and managers are facing a slightly similar issue?

Looking back at my time in larger (and some small) corporations (as an employee at them or a consultant to them) I remember the phrase

“We are dealing too much with ourselves and not enough with the market, our audience or the competition.”

really well. Firstly this means that too many capacities are bound by internal ineffectiveness (not to be muddled up with inefficiencies!). Companies are not applying the right people or skill to solve INTERNAL problems, so things tend to drag on forever. They might be throwing some weight at the problems, but it’s not the right weight. I’ve learned about this angle in a talk from Dr. Gerhard Wohland when he said (something in the direction of):

Whenever a surprise hits, companies tend to ask the wrong question. They usually what to know “what are we going to do now?”. That’s the wrong question. If you knew your options, the situation wouldn’t be a surprise. What you need to ask yourself is “who is the right person in our company to deal with this and find out what to do?”.

Secondly, the majority of people hired for a job (if not hired for an HR role) are trained (and framed) to deal with OUTSIDE facing topics. They are (if hired well) diplomats to deal with EXTERNAL challenges on the client, partner or industry side. They have not come on board as diplomats and problem solvers for the INTERNAL conflict – even though that solving those would automatically lead to improved business success…I dare to quote Richard Branson in this context:

Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your clients.

Those two thoughts lead to two questions, that might be a starting point to resolving the INTRA-company challenges.:

  1. Are the right people dealing with our internal challenges? (instead of: are we doing the right thing?)
  2. How do we attract the right people that we need to deal with our internal challenges? (and most likely this will not be the next VP with an impressive commercial track record…)

Listening without the goal of convincing.

Another part of Jonas Gahr Støre’s talk referred to the ability to

Distinguish talking from making decisions.

What resonated with me here is the fact, that too many intra-corporate conversations don’t have the objective to understand. The dialogue is either “fake” (aka the feedback doesn’t really weigh as much as the initial statement) or the only aim of dialogue is to find the right angle to convince people of something else.

I am sure, we all have been in a situation where we’ve been invited to a “constructive conversation”, which turned out to be an environment in which – after having voiced the own perspective – the only objective was the attempt to convince us.

You’ve been there, right?

Now there is a difference between my TAKE 1 on “moral reframing” in this essay and the lack of dialogue I am referring to here. Because the sort of dialogue I am promoting in my TAKE 2 is a necessary foundation for being able to find resonating arguments. It can only derive from the will to walk into a conversation with the sole objective to understand, not to immediately respond and convince. For this methods like “active listening”, in which a listener repeats the perceived message in own words to then see if the sent and the perceived meaning actually match, can be very helpful.

If the objective of a conversation is a real understanding of all parties at the table, there is no need for neutrality or consensus to maintain a good conversational climate. It would be baked in by the fact that real interest into the other’s point of view is the driver of the talk, instead of the “polite waiting period before I blurt out what all the others have to believe anyway.”

My Essence: Effective change requires a foundation derived from a real dialogue.

Let’s not take the detour over “Starting with Why?” (Simon Sinek) again 😉

Let’s take it as a given and agree, that the purpose for change, for the introduction of new ways of working and the move towards a connected organisation has to start with a real dialogue.

Before companies whip out their value propositions and try to encourage behavioural change, they might want to get a deep understanding of the values and drivers of the people the change will affect. This will help us to work with resonating value propositions, which in itself are much stronger in their effect.

Let’s seek a dialogue that has the objective to understand, not to convince or manipulate.

If we want to proclaim the power of the crowd, holocracy and flat (or no) hierarchies, let’s find the real motivators to do so. Because a stock price, competitive advantage or a steep increase in bonuses won’t be it. That much we should really know already…

Let’s introduce a new breed of (non-HR) managers: diplomats for internal affairs.

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If you need a Chief Digital Officer, you’re probably doomed…

Summary: I’ve deliberately chosen the title to be a little *smile provocative. Of course I don’t mean it literally but where’s smoke there’s fire. So this article is about my very personal angle on the role of a CDO…more or less.

Maybe I need to say that McKinsey Quarterly isn’t my only inspirational source. However, I’ve learnt to appreciate their triggers to summarise some of my experience and complement it with their almost academical angle on my little digital world.

Unfortunately we have to make you our Chief Digital Officer

One of my colleagues at Infocentric just recently forwarded me a McKinsey article on “Transformer in chief: The new chief digital officer”. Reading the article I actually reflected a little on my perception of organisations that decided to install a CDO as part of their Digital Transformation strategy.

Let me make a brutal statement: Digital, Social, Transformation, Web… whatever Officer. Whoever decided to invent those titles gave in to two things:

  • Our DNA is not able to embrace the digitalising world and we need someone with an (compared to us) attitude and unorthodox behaviour
  • Our Shareholders need to believe that we do something about the danger of disruption – we need a change on board level without changing anything

Again, provocative…maybe it’s the core of my article and therefore its real purpose: I want to provoke!

McKinsey put’s the famous quote

If you digitalise a shit process, you end up with a shit digital process

(Thorsten Dirks, CEO Telefonica Germany)

into a different frame: “(…) Many companies are focused on developing a digital strategy when they should instead focus on integrating digital into all aspects of the business, from channels and processes and data to the operating model, incentives, and culture. (…)” (Source: “Transformer in chief: The new chief digital officer”, McKinsey, September 2015).

Digital Transformation means to embrace digital in all its, sometimes even disruptive opportunities. Disruption is nothing but the merciless elimination of something that was pushed into “outdated” by a new eco system anyway. Sometimes it happens to entire business models. Sometimes “only” an IT, communications or customer interaction strategy will be affected by it.

If you need some bearded guy with thick rimmed glasses that wears suit and trainers to tell you that you need to address the new requirements to your business model or strategy, you might have not done your home work…per se. Like in: the people that are in charge have somewhat left touch with the outside world and how things are moving forward. That’s a pretty rough sign in general.

Learn to fail

Looking at my past years in Digital Transformation I can say with confidence that very rarely companies allow themselves to really (really!) learn from mistakes. Try, fail, try again, fail harder and then succeed, however, is something that some companies have used to re-invent entire industries. We know them as the “new economy”. And the old economy is traveling to them from all over the world to learn on how to do things differently.

Now, for doing things differently a lot of paradigms and “measures of success” have to change in the first place. “Doing things right the first time” is something that companies should strive for…when it’s about the core of their business logic. When it comes to change, transformation and evolution, well, you might need a couple of iterations. No matter if you’ve been in charge of process design for 34 years, if you hold three PhDs in science or if you have been a sales over performer in three consecutive years. Sometimes you just don’t know straight away.

The way out: “Leading” a learning culture

I suggest that leaders and top managers start to use the phrase “I don’t know, I need to find someone who does.” more often. Because in an organisation with more than 50 people it’s pretty likely that there is someone who at least knows someone how knows. If you run a multi divisional, multi regional company…well, you do the math.

If leaders allow for bottom up change (not only preaching it, but actually nurturing it) then the phrase “I don’t know” can be magical. Suddenly you get the bits and pieces of your own DNA that could be the starting point of your change if you let it. Sometimes this is called “incubation”…but even that is more of a fig leave in too many cases.

For me “I don’t know” stands hand in hand with one of Franklin Covey’s 7 habits of highly effective people:

Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.

It does not stand for weakness, disinterest or lack of competence. It’s merely the acknowledgement that real organisational power is built from a combination of many perspectives on the same subject. Like with a tribe…

Advisors are a sign that you actually care to learn

Alright, this might sound a little like a sales pitch for my profession. Nevertheless, if I look at people that have told me: “I didn’t know, so I brought someone to our conversation that actually does know”, I immediately developed a lot of respect for them. And I am not talking about external advisors anyway. Imagine if board & strategy meetings would (at least partly) be open for the digital or digitally savvy portion of the company. If the own digital DNA (no matter how small in numbers or young in age) would complement the decades of business and industry experience to take the next leap. Complement, not replace or push out or compete with.

I have seen companies like Swisscom go on stage in a combination of HR leadership, experienced digital transformers and  trainees. They showed how they, united as a team, take a stand for the transformation of organisation and business model. It was impressive and motivating at the same time.

I strongly believe that the winners of today’s competition for digital dominance will be the companies that don’t extend the board but transform the board.

You don’t need a CDO. You need a “C-Suite that is infected by and passionate about digital“.

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Driving #ChangeManagement; thoughts on #McKinsey #change platform article http://goo.gl/2UbUaL #socbiz #e20 #enterprise20

With a lot of interest I’ve read Gary Hamel’s and Michele Zanini’s article on change published on McKinsey.com in October 2015 (http://goo.gl/2UbUaL). As part of their recommendation to establish a change platform instead of a change program they suggest to replace the old paradigms of change

  • Change starts at the top
  • Change is rolled out
  • Change is engineered

with a more state of the art framework:

  • From top-down to activist-out
  • From managed to organic

Part of this framework is a platform inspired (not copied from, I like that!) by social media technology. They don’t put the technology in the front row. They advise a change of mind on the executive floor. From change agent in chief to change enabler in chief. This new role is supposed to create the right environment and provide the right coaching for the organisation to speak up.

No matter how much I like the idea and no matter how much I would like to see large organisations change organically, the past years have made me re-think my belief that change can be solely driven from within. I’ve been an active part of change – in various roles – and I’ve worked and am still working with (in some cases pretty large) companies that want to drive change. From within.

I would like to share two perspectives that I would like to see as an addition to the article mentioned above:


#1 the biggest hurdle sits in the middle

Companies have managed to design a way of steering themselves that works on multiple levels of abstraction. The higher managers sit in the food chain the more abstract they look onto their share of responsibility. They way they are managed and measured is sometime even more disconnected from reality than the objectives set of the c-suite. They are the ones that always have to deliver the impossible.

Now change is nurtured and coached from above and activists are encourage to apply disruptive and innovative thinking. Everyone is allowed to work out loud and to form alliances for the greater good.

I would like to recommend that someone comes up with the model for “middle management change”. How can we turn them into activists? How do we enable them to not just rely on dashboards, punctual human interaction and brushed up reports? How to we turn them into coaches, guides, enablers, network facilitators and talent spotters?

I believe that without them in the front row change from inside-out will end up in the same spot as from top-down: a cul-de-sac.


#2 the right environment comes with the right set of KPI

Let’s not kid ourselves. We are talking about companies – in a lot of instances we are talking about public ones. As long as the executive floor and their direct lines do not turn organisations in collaboratively driven powerhouses nothing will change. As long as goals can be achieved individually (aka: alone), something’s wrong. Swarm intelligence in a company has to be nurtured and motivated…and evaluated and measured.

“What is the project of your community?”

This was one of my favourite statements at the 2014 Social Business Collaboration Conference in Berlin. It stands for something that has been seen separately over the past years: collective exchange and concrete measures and objectives.

I truly believe that our communities need projects. No matter if we call them change, innovation, research, development or thought leadership communities. They need a project because they happen in companies and they have to deliver their share of the deal.


This might sound all very harsh and black and white but I am intentionally trying to provoke here.

I am an evangelist for the future of information work. I am am fighter for the social media inspired workspace. I am an encourager of cross-functional and cross-border thinking and work. However, I don’t think that we will be able to do all this without the right measures and frameworks in place. Just unleashing the activists in an environment of freedom and thought leadership is not enough.

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Implementing #Change in the Context of the #DigitalWorkplace… Thoughts on #Drivers & #SuccessFactors; #socbiz #enterprise20

Thanks to being swamped with active involvement with my favorite subject I have again fallen silent on my sharing channel. For the ones who care: I am sorry. I makes me feel bad on the one hand. On the other hand I believe it’s the only way to come up with new and valuable content anyway.

Now…

Even though I have written about the subject on one of the other occasion the frequency in which questions on change and implementing new directions in information work has increased. The awareness for factors beyond design, technology and ambitious thinking seems to be stronger than ever. After digesting my past year’s experience and after resonating on successful and not so successful cases I decided to share the essence of my thoughts here as well.

I want to look at the subject from two essential angles. When I say essential I actually mean it. They are both (together) neuralgic point in organisational change and in particular when it comes to meddling with the way that intellectual asset is being dealt with in the future.

Angle 1: Motivation and Commitment

I’ve elaborated on the subject of motivation before. Nevertheless I feel the need to emphasise the strength of “moving away from challenges” again. On a few occasions I have been confronted with teams that had decided to motivate functional areas as well as executives with the glance on a bright and beautiful future. Everything at hand. Everything tailored. Everything social. What a great world.

A vision.

If you have visions, go and see a doctor.

(Helmut Schmidt, Former German Chancellor)

What people couldn’t see in the vision was the impact on the current way of working and what it means for each individual in terms of commitment and responsibility to build the foundation for that vision. Dull and cumbersome projects such as information architecture, taxonomies, document management systems and life cycle concepts would be what the core teams would be confronted with pretty soon.

If you’re lacking motivation to actually go through that pain it’s only natural that initiatives slow down or are dead in the water almost from the start.

I every single case where future stakeholders across all hierarchical levels and functions were able to “dump” their pain points on the table things were different. Pain points. Not the wish list. Not early Christmas. The stuff that’s driving people nuts and the things that make life more difficult than necessary – for everyone involved.

What is preventing you from being excellent? What is keeping you from performing beyond expectations?

Answering that and prioritizing the impact of challenges on business results and employee satisfaction became a strong foundation for planning and release management in all projects. It was the anchor for the project to argue need & value. It was the best way to surface, which concrete (measurable) benefits would be created from investing in new ways of working and the efforts for changing established behaviour. It was much stronger than any vision and outlook that the team could provide based on analyst reports and industry benchmarking.

Just one comment: if you decide to go down that route you should take into account that it means transparency for progress. As soon as you’ve named the priorities and challenges that will be addressed in the early phases on the Digital Workplace evolution and nothing changes…it’s visible. Very, very visible. Because you have created a concrete reference point for change.

Angle 2: Executive Buy-In.

No. I won’t be repeating the change management mantras. I won’t be preaching the 8 steps of Kottler’s approach to organisational change. You’ve heard all that often enough. However, let me tell you what I have learned about executive buy-in.

You DON’T have buy in of your executives if they have…

  • singed off on the vision that was built on the big three’s forecast for the future without explicitly matching it to the business and organisational challenges at hand…themselves!
  • not explicitly decided to disregard divisional business results as a source for power and independency and support a global approach across whatever kind organisational silos there might exist.
  • not changed the objectives of their next reporting line to resonate on the organisational support that your initiative will need (aka you have the executive buy-in…and only theirs).
  • attended one workshop and delegate their involvement in the next steps to someone else.

I could go on and on. As a matter of fact your initiative won’t be going anywhere if your executives including the ones in charge of the core business operations haven’t formed the winning coalition and have actively worked on determining the “what” and “why” themselves. Like in: spent more than 2 hours in one room including active work, idea gathering and experience sharing.

Oh, and you don’t have the buy in of your executives if they do not listen to the operational level and nurture honest and candid conversation on what’s going wrong. Listen like in: attending workshops, tie off, hands-on writing cards and working on concrete (!) solutions.

Actually: if you have established a well-oiled lean management machine, chances are that your cultural foundation for changing the fundament of information and knowledge work might be quite right.

One last wake up call. If your initiative isn’t connected to business KPI that actually stand for management attention you might be dead in the water as well. Because you will lack the argument to maintain your budget in hard times. If you cannot prove that you are actually changing things for the better you are the first ones walking the line. And hard times are waiting ahead…no matter what the economical trends might be.

Essence of my experience

If you have the first angle on change management in shape chances are that you’re good to go to tackle the 2nd one as well. Because moving away from concrete challenges towards a better enablement of people and work excellence will deliver a lot of attention higher up.

Give your stakeholders all the good reasons to stick with you. Because you will make their life easier. At hands-on work and in the monthly Excel reports 😉

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personal thoughts on HBR’s “Best Workplace on Earth” http://goo.gl/XJHNR; #hbr #pragmatism #realism

HBR’s Article “Creating the Best Workplace on Earth” by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones (http://goo.gl/XJHNR) has been trending in my Twitter network over the past couple of days. Today I took myself the time to read it and I somehow feel like “I have to say something”. Since I am not smart enough to do that in 140 characters I’ve decided to dedicate a blog post to it – and feature it through channel 140…

The article itself is referring to common sense quite a lot. However, I am asking myself how much common sense today’s combination of economy and society actually allows. There are a lot of good examples of large organisations that have fundamentally changed how things go and people are treated. Nevertheless the majority of our economy is driven by the root of all evil:

Shareholder Value

Were it human shareholders that would have a substantial interest in securing long term stability and profit for companies we would be better off than we are today. Too much corporate value is owned by virtual constructs in which the actual human factor of value contribution and the awareness of “it’s a company, not a sponge” simply get’s lost. Increasing personal wealth by outsourcing the nasty work to the stock market mechanism is simply not a good foundation for sustainable thinking on the other end of the food chain.

It’s an easy thing to say that we should provide authenticity, sense, transparency and freedom.

I’ve learned myself over the past 10 years that it’s not that easy. Due to the abstraction of steering mechanisms the amount if Excel-based steering increases the higher in the hierarchy you get (yes, yes…flat hierarchies…I know). That fades away as soon as you enter the C-suite. So for them it’s easy to preach forward looking thinking. At the end of the day it’s the middle management that “screws up”. They are the ones (like the stock market mechanisms) that have to do the “dirty work”. Because even the most forward looking company has to achieve the goals committed to in the latest quarterly forecast (or crystal ball report as I love to call it).

If we don’t want the good examples to be rare and outstanding – which they can only be if it’s different enough from the common world – we have to substantially change the way our economy works… It’s a little bit like the criticism of today’s food industry (seriously…the words don’t even go together). As long as everyone in the first world is expecting cheap meat (or any kind of food) on the table every single day, independent from season or geography, we’re just begging for scandals and things we didn’t want to find on our plates…

But maybe that’s as naive as asking for a replacement of corporate social media policies by five simple demands:

Social Media Demandments

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personal note; excited to announce that I’ve joined @infocentric research ag to lead principal consulting & research #timeforchange

It’s time for personal change.

I’ve decided to leave the world of large corporations behind and join the thriving and passionate team of Infocentric Research AG (Baden, Switzerland). As a proud member of their ET I will be leading their principal consulting and research practice and drive Infocentric’s internationalisation efforts.

The team at Infocentric has an exceptional perspective on all things digital. They are true believers in the power of information logistics and the transformation of businesses to unleash the potential of their digital channels.

I strongly recommend a look at their report on the Digital Workplace

One essential aspect for this move is the opportunity to apply my experience in digital communications again. In addition to my work in the field of social business and enterprise 2.0 I will support companies in orchestrating their digital footprint. As part of a team of true experts I will help companies to improve individual and collaborative business productivity as a solid foundation for digitalising external relationships.

If you want to know more don’t hesitate me to contact me via Twitter @for_desire_it or email: prosenthal (at) infocentricresearch.com.