As many of you can have guessed, the title I chose for this post is inspired by a quote from W.E. Deming.
When I got to know Deming for the first time, many of his lessons came as a revelation to me: they were kind of resonating with my personal thoughts and reflections, but still they cleared out many clouds.
“…most troubles and most possibilities for improvement add up to proportions something like this: 94% belong to the system, 6% are attributable to special causes.”
I think that this simple sentence can trigger several reflections about how to make things happen and especially how changes can have a chance to happen and possibly stick.
Below are mine, from my personal survival handbook J.
- Look at the system
An organization, even a single team, is a complex network of people, who are complex beings. If you really want to leverage on all potentials to affect it, you must look at it as a whole system.
Try to sketch the possible options you have ahead, possible impediments and way to overcome them to reach your goal: you might realize that you need to take many steps, in order to get any progress.
Prefer actions who affect the environment around or the process to do things, instead of addressing directly a specific problem: they will have a more lasting impact. And, whatever level you want to affect, consider acting also one level up.
“It does not happen all at once. There is no instant pudding.”-W.E. Deming
- Involve people
Try to understand your team or organization very well. Learn about the invisible networks, the inner relationships among people, who is friend of whom, who is most sensitive to certain subjects and who counts more or is more influential on certain subjects, whether he has a formal power or only a de-facto leadership. Talk to people, with a preference for informal chats (coffee machines are a perfect place sometimes).
“A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world” – J. Le Carré
Create an alliance: find initiators to support you and involve them in creating a shared strategy for the change.
Chase innovators eager to try new things out first and learn from people actually doing the work.
Find also sponsors to support you in difficult situations and leaders who can help with crossing the chasm and reach out the majority.
“The greatest waste … is failure to use the abilities of people…to learn about their frustrations and about the contributions that they are eager to make”- W.E. Deming
Strive for ways how to collect as much feedback as possible, especially from skeptics, but do not spend time in convincing cynics and possible saboteurs.
- Communicate properly
You cannot just plan your change at your PC, create a slide ware and then ask to deploy it to the whole organization.
How many times have you tried to do that way? How many times did it work?
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”- A. Einstein
Instead explain the “why” for the change; make people aware of what it might mean and relate the change to their daily problems.
Have people desire the change (what’s in it for me?), support them with the change, provide the necessary knowledge and give them time to learn.
Offer role models, lead yourself by example and help people with mentoring and coaching on how to change.
“If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” – A. de Saint-Exupery
- Reward behaviors not outcomes
When you make a change or learn something new, usually your performances at the stuff affected by the change are getting a bit worse, especially at the beginning. So give room for experiments and possible failures, so that people are not afraid to try new things.
Celebrate short-term wins and success stories; make them visible and share the results with information radiators.
Publicly reward those who are learning more or sharing more with others, so that the change can go viral. Express appreciation for the right behaviors so that the desire for change is continuously reinforced.
“The most important figures that one needs for management are unknown or unknowable” – W.E. Deming
- Use an empirical step-wise approach
Before taking any step, try to guess which effect it will have in relation to your goal.
Make a hypothesis and try to validate it as quick as possible with minimum viable actions and fast feedback.
However changes in a complex environment are never a linear process you can plan upfront, set goals and KPIs, deploy it to the organization and track the progress. That’s why sometimes you must simply try things out. That is sometimes absolutely not bad, stated that you try to fail fast and reflect on what you learned to find a different path.
Of course using an empirical process control implies that you can observe your system to be able to inspect and adapt. Therefore enable full transparency; make relevant information visible as much as possible from everybody to everybody to be able to really understand what’s going on and act accordingly. Otherwise your change will degenerate into chaos.
“It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best.” – W.E. Deming
How much time and effort are you spending really nurturing your system?
How much are you learning from people actually doing the work?
Are you really making changes happen or just increasing the entropy of your system into chaos?
And if don’t mind about change and how to make changes effectively, skip the whole article and just consider that:
“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” – W.E. Deming