The transition from old to new

Growing by Marissa Elkind – Flickr – https://flic.kr/p/YmkGcE

A fable about letting go:

Two travelling monks reached a town where there was a young woman waiting to step out of her sedan chair. The rains had made deep puddles and she couldn’t step across without spoiling her silken robes. She stood there, looking very cross and impatient. She was scolding her attendants. They had nowhere to place the packages they held for her,  so they couldn’t help her across the puddle.

The younger monk noticed the woman, said nothing, and walked by. The older monk quickly picked her up and put her on his back, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other side. She didn’t thank the older monk, she just shoved him out of the way and departed.

As they continued on their way, the young monk was brooding and preoccupied. After several hours, unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. “That woman back there was very selfish and rude, but you picked her up on your back and carried her! Then she didn’t even thank you!

 “I set the woman down hours ago,” the older monk replied. “Why are you still carrying her?”
Unknown Author 

When I was a line manager I used to take a fair amount of comfort from knowing that there were documented processes for everything, which essentially helped keep me safe, my colleagues and my staff safe (that was my assumption).

In having processes for everything, what that meant for me as a manager was that in a strange way, I didn’t have to think about anything – I simply followed the process and trusted that it got me to the right outcome (again that was my assumption).

Perhaps obvious to many people but this essentially means that rulebooks, processes and procedures tell people what to do, insist on discipline and compliance if you expect to be rewarded or stay out of trouble.  It is pretty much the lifeblood of command and control organisations. However, this has an unintended consequence that any form of creativity is pretty much designed out of the flow of work.

I used to think I was being creative and could be creative but I now know that I wasn’t.  Everything I did was wrapped within the parameters of the rules and processes which surrounded me (visibly and invisibly).  So on a personal level, I was only tinkering around the edges which over time end up becoming part of the problem.

Many of the conversations I now have,  make this increasingly visible to me and I can now start seeing the restrictions or parameters played out in what people say and how they act.  It has taken some time (a huge amount of unlearning and practice) to see this and learn how to tune out the noise and pay attention to the things that make them visible.

Most people state that they believe they have incredible freedom to act and they feel empowered to change any aspect of the work they do.  But what plays out on a practical level is actually the opposite.

I used to think I had a huge freedom to act, but I now know that I didn’t and was blind to so much stuff that stopped me creating lasting and sustainable change.

It is true that people can change some processes and some policies so that some improvement can become visible, but inevitably that change is single loop thinking – see my previous post talks about the single loop and double loop learning.

When you help make these things visible, the challenge is to understand why these things happen, what the consequences of these things are on the work and on the people who interact with services.

In simple terms, once you have done this, you can change those things based on knowledge and understanding.  Now, this is where I’ve started to find things incredibly interesting…the transition between old ways of working and new ways of working”.

In this “transition” space – you really learn about letting go and what letting go actually means and that it isn’t straightforward and easy.

Essentially the journey involves an emergent process of learning, where you have to unlearn and let go of all the things that currently get in the way of doing good things and then learn from a base of principle how to think differently, behave differently and act differently.

Underpinning this transition is ideally a shift from model 1 behaviours to model 2 behaviours (Argyris and Schon).

On a personal level this transition is still very much underway and as a team, we are discovering and learning what principles make sense for us and help us achieve our purpose (To help leaders see, think and behave differently).

So when it comes to letting go of old behaviours, habits, thinking, all the things that provide comfort and allowing yourself to become vulnerable and exposed, it is a no wonder that this is a much harder journey than some would acknowledge.

However and this is one of the biggest realisations I have – In my experience so far, moving to a principled way of thinking, behaving and doing is something that truly does liberate oneself.    It does allow oneself to legitimately move away from the constraints of how we currently work and importantly the constraints I placed upon myself that stopped me from starting this journey of learning and growing.

I used to think I was continually learning and growing, but I now know that I wasn’t. What I used to do was build faulty feedback loops that reinforced my current thinking and created further barriers to exposing my true vulnerabilities, restricting my ability to grow.

A final reflection is that through all of this it has reinforced one thing – I am truly privileged to be in a leadership position and how I think, behave and act has profound implications on others. I have a responsibility to understand those things so that I can ensure I create and add value.

 

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Making Assumptions

My first post of 2012 is one which is very much a reflection on 2011 and also about looking forward.

One of the things I did last year which I have now firmly embedded in my approach to work and actually life in general is to never, NEVER, EVER make assumptions.

Assumptions about:

  • people – this is an obvious one really, people are unpredictable and act differently when faced with hugely challenging situations as well as other personal and professional pressures.
  • processes – there are a range of processes which are logical but most don’t actually make sense when looking at them…I have made mistakes in the past about assuming that a particular process would result in specific actions taking place – but they didn’t and unfortunately i spent some time remedying that which if I’d thought about it and checked the process then it would have saved time.
  • technology – technology amazes me, at a basic level, remote controls for TV’s still blow my mind…as do mobile phones. However we can never assume that people use technology in the same way…my use of computers, mobile phones and technology in general differs greatly from my mothers for example…I can’t and must never assume people operate the same…
  • organisations – some organisations don’t actually act as you’d expect in certain conditions, for example the restructure process last year here at the council highlighted a few things to me personally which I’d not experienced before and ultimately led to me staying with the council.

One area where all of these assumptions come together is when you start to write and share strategies, plans and projects.

Now you can create very lengthy documents which allow you to capture all the “strategic assumptions” but this isn’t always a practical approach, nor is it what your readers actually want (no assumption made here as this is based on actual feedback – shorter and clearer documents are preferred)…however it is worth capturing and highlighting the assumptions as it does avoid the unnecessary discussions about all the stuff that “isn’t written down”.

Anyway…the key point to this post is that I can’t and mustn’t assume anything and that is a key lesson which was validated through last year.

What do you think?

What assumptions do you or are you making?

 

Managing expectations or reducing conflict?

I have been experiencing some issues and challenges lately and i have realised that they are due to a perception of something. This was driven by assumptions and expectations on all sides.

Recently i have been involved in personal situation where i have assumed that family/friends have let me down, because i had expected them to behave in a particular way. But the reality is that it was only my perception of the situation.

  • Assumptions: Assumption is defined in the dictionary as “a thing that is assumed to be true”
  • Expectations: Defined in the dictionary as “belief that something will happen or be the case”
  • Perceptions: Perception is defined in the dictionary as “a way of regarding, understanding or interpreting something”. Perception is fundamentally individual to each person.

Our expectations are based on our own experiences and when our expectations are not met there is a sense of “all is not right in the world”.

For the most part, my perception is that this is an area of work that project/programme managers deal with everyday, which got me thinking – Are project managers managing expectations or reducing potential conflict?

What i have learned and what i now need to reflect on, is when i communicate with colleagues, family, friends and peers, all parties need to be clear about what is expected and what assumptions are being applied as we move forward.

The issue of assumptions came up in a book i was reading by John Seddon – System Thinking in the Public Sector. All business processes have assumptions associated with them, whether valid or not. For example:

A simple process of making a payment to the council via debit/credit card via a face to face contact point

Example Assumptions (this is not a comprehensive list and i’m sure you can think of some more yourself

  • face to face is a preferred channel for customers
  • customers have access to transport to get to the face to face contact point
  • customers have debit/credit cards
  • all information is available to customer in advance of making payment
  • customers work/life pattern coincides with council opening times.
  • etc etc….

As you can tell, we all live with assumptions and expectations and perceptions of how things are, the challenge for us all is to try and communicate these so that we can deal with them in the open and either remove or validate them.