The Art Of Unlearning What Works

typewriter

As an organizational psychologist and a firm believer in continuous development, I have often found myself in the position of advising people on creative ways to keep learning throughout their careers. I have worked with clients seeking to become “learning organizations” – where individuals and teams are continuing to figure out what works through learning in order to outperform their competitors. Research, experiment, succeed, fail, learn, improve, repeat.

As someone who has dedicated his professional life to the topic of organizational culture, I realize that groups of people, over time and through collective experience, figure out what works and what doesn’t. Doing so allows them to begin to bake into their organization’s systems and processes methods for repeating successes and minimizing failures (or they cease to exist). Doing so allows members of these organizations to routinize processes and behaviors that lead to success so they can utilize their mental capacity on other things. Easy enough in theory.

The real challenge presents itself when the old ways of doing things that once yielded success stop working (or stop working as well as they once did). It is during these times that I often get people reaching out to me to help them figure out what to do in order to right the ship before things go too far afoul. In all of these situations, some common realities have bubbled up that are important to acknowledge.

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Occam’s Razor or Beware of the System Complicators

Clarity

I bought a disassembled propane grill one time.  There were at least a thousand parts (well, maybe not that many) and the directions were about 20 pages long.  I began a long, tedious process of following each step and carefully assembling every subcomponent.

About an hour into the assembly, the idea slowly dawned on me that something was missing: simplicity and common sense.

The factory technical writers might have thought they were helping the consumer build the grill, but they had focused so much on the minutiae of the assembly process that no one told me that there were only perhaps five or six basic steps.  What I call a “Systems Complicator” had somehow infiltrated the factory and had written the instructions. They had focused on so many details and the “micro,” of the assembly that they never told me the “macro,” or what we all call the big picture.

They forgot good old Occam. Read More…

Focusing On Customer Experience Is No Longer Optional

Customer Experience

Ready or not, the customer experience (CX) game is on. No matter what size or industry you may play in, you are now competing based on the experience you provide to your customers. Government agencies, this applies to you as well. So, if you’re not thinking that customer experience is something that you need to be concerning yourself with, you may be digging your organization into a hole that you may not be able to climb out of.

Why has CX become such a fundamental component of brand success?

While certain brands that have understood the power of the customer experience for many years and have continued to refine their CX delivery in new and profitable ways, the notion that all organizations need to consider the experience that they provide to their customers as a competitive driver has really only become something of note over the last decade. One primary reason for this is due to the great leaps and continuous improvements that these CX leaders make to their customer experiences which continue to raise customer expectations.

Brands like Amazon, Apple, and even Uber Eats have provided customers with the ability to engage in experiences that are designed around their specific needs and wants- and they like it. As expectations around experiences evolve those brands that are unable to deliver will undoubtedly lose the affection of their customers. This reality creates the need for organizations in all sectors and industries and of all sizes to ask themselves what they are doing to both understand what their customers want and need and what steps are they taking to be able to evolve their experiences to deliver on those expectations. Read More…

7 Best Practices for Delivering on Business Transformation

story and business transformation

What does it take to deliver on the promise of transformation? In the face of high-velocity change, communication is everything. Things are moving so quickly, people don’t know what story they’re in anymore. It’s why they need a compelling narrative that answers who we are, what we do, who we serve, and why it matters. This narrative needs to be embedded across the entire organization. Clear messaging produces org-wide alignment: shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, metric to metric. The best practices below have been mined from over 15 years of experience in helping leaders successfully create sustained transformation.

1.) CONVEY AN INSPIRED FUTURE

Why It Matters: OKRs are powerful, yet they rarely convey the vision. A vision needs to be aspirational, emotional and functional—beyond just financial growth and moving the metrics. Why should we be excited about what we can create together? Your vision needs to demonstrate faith in the future.

Where & When? 

  • CEO messaging
  • Annual summit
  • Quarterly all-hands
  • Keystone videos & collateral

2.) STAY DISCIPLINED

Why It Matters: Transformation doesn’t happen by just “winging it”. You need catchy, repeatable keywords and slogans. Develop memorable frameworks, mental models, and taglines that can be repeated on a frequent basis. That message has to be personalized by every leader for believability.

Where & When?

  • Cascade down the line
  • Internal comms channels
  • Marketing touchpoints
  • Coaching execs for consistency

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Navigating Change In Deeply Rooted Organizations

Deeply rooted organization

Anyone who has ever attempted to lead change in an organization, regardless of its size and complexity, will attest that it’s not for the faint of heart. One simple attestation to this is the countless number of books and articles written on the topic.

While organizational change can be difficult, regardless of the circumstances, it can be particularly challenging to create change in organizations that have long-standing histories and deeply embedded cultural norms, beliefs, and assumptions. Organizations that are solidly grounded in legacy and that place significant value on an enviable history oftentimes have the most difficulty creating change. This is especially true when these organizations are attempting to create transformative change (completely disruptive) as opposed to evolutionary change (small slices of change over time).

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Organizational Artifacts And The Reshaping Of History

organizational artifacts

As Winston Churchill once proclaimed, “History is written by the victors.” While this sentiment may hold a bit less weight in today’s society where even the “losers” can shape the collective narrative with the help of things like the internet, the “winners” do tend to hold quite a bit of power over shaping how future generations interpret the events of the past.

One way to shape peoples’ interpretation of the past is to remove and replace the physical artifacts of a people. The statues, monuments, images, the schoolbooks and stories that do not align with the version of history that you wish to promote. Read More…

Weathering An Organizational Storm

storm

$16-billion dollar weather disasters have affected the US this year, from January – October. And the year isn’t over. We all knew someone, or personally experienced these events – from hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria to the more recent wildfires in California. These traumatic events have taken a physical and emotional toll on many.

Living in Florida, hurricane season is one we plan for and anticipate every year. But always with a wait and see mentality. This year may be quiet, with little impact to our homes, or it may be the year where we experience the storm of the century. Having just watched the unexpected impact of hurricane Harvey to our neighbors across the Gulf, here in Florida, we watched the path of hurricane Irma with great anxiety. In the days before hurricane Irma was scheduled to make landfall, Governor Scott called for a State of Emergency. The skies were blue, social and professional events went on as scheduled, but the environment was charged. Water became scarce in the stores. Group chats permeated social media. We all accessed the local news channels and apps with more frequency as we sought the most up-to-date information on the direction of the storm, and the potential impact to different regions of the state of Florida. Who would be impacted, how badly, and when? Read More…

3 Ways To Help Fix A Broken Company Culture

broken company culture

I once worked with a CEO of a successful startup. His company had been experiencing growing pains and customer-service mishaps that led to a decline in performance. During a leadership meeting designed to review recent irregular operations, he raised his hand and took ownership of the problem with a blunt assessment.

“The fish stinks at the head,” he said.

In other words, the organizational issues stemmed from leadership errors. These mistakes at the top of an organization can easily trickle down to create cultural issues throughout the team.

Companies undergo cultural assessments for a variety of reasons—and they’re not always because things have gone awry. A company might have a great culture that it wants to preserve during a growth phase. Or it might want to evolve the company’s culture to keep pace with a leadership change, market shift or relocation.

Other times, companies need to know why something unexpected has happened. Leaders might be trying to address increased turnover, decreased market share, a drop in productivity or something as major as ethical violations. Unfortunately, leaders don’t always understand what the aforementioned CEO identified: Organizational issues often go much deeper than culture. Read More…

What To Do When Your Help Isn’t Helping

community culture

“Hello! I’m here to help!”

So many of us (consultants, leaders, individual contributors) are trying to “help” in our organizations. Helping may take on many forms. It may look like a new initiative, advice for a colleague, a technology update, or an entirely new strategic direction – all done in the name of making things better. I’m here to tell you that your approach is (probably) missing something.

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How to Overcome the Anxiety of Change with Organizational Empathy

overcome anxiety of change with organizational empathy

We often talk about organizational change like inertia. We assume that the plans we put into motion will continue in motion unless they’re otherwise affected by some outside force.

But the truth is, organizational change is more akin to entropy. Even without the influence of outside forces, our processes tend to move toward disorder unless they’re continually and actively managed.

Change is a constant, unrelenting force that we as leaders must navigate every day. So how do we make sure we’re positioning ourselves and our teams to operate in such conditions?

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