Jump, Rinse, Repeat: Why do we keep implementing change like this?

by  Bill Fox  |  Workplace Issues
Source: istockphoto.com

Everyone, it seems, is talking about change and the need to change.  But somehow we keep repeating a familiar pattern.  It’s like going to the edge of a 50-foot cliff and jumping when all you’ve witnessed are others ahead of you jumping away.  As a result, you don’t see what they did before they jumped, what the landing area looks like, or what happened when they landed!

Are we focused on the right things when implementing change?

In a recent article I wrote for the Cutter IT Journal, The Agile CMMI Conversation is a Dead End, I professed that the focus on best practices in many domains won’t go way because we are still focused on the wrong things.  Do change efforts focused on delivering best practices that worked somewhere else solve the main problem?  Not always.  So how long do they last before they are abandoned because of lack of results or a change in management?  Do these packages of best practices provide a full solution?

I’m not the only one questioning what we are trying to change in our organizations.  In The Going Lean Field Guide, author Stephen Ruffa writes that “too many chase the latest fads and don’t consider decades of accumulated knowledge.”

Why is this?  Is it lack of real leadership?

In a recent blog post, Reflections on What It Means to Be a Leader, blogger Samantha Hall raises many thought provoking ideas about what it means to be a leader.  Maybe leaders need to take to heart the idea that Hall raises in her post, “We need REAL leadership that is ABOUT the people and FOR the people!”

How might we do this?

To quote Stephen Ruffa again from The Going Lean Field Guide, he advocates:

“Shift from a system driven by top-down control and outcome-based measures to one that draws on increasing insights, capabilities, and authority of the workforce, enabling direct accountability and visibility of value creation at each step in its buildup.”

In the end, I believe we need to be more about unleashing the creativity, intellect, and passion of everyone in our organizations.  It is my belief that a group of empowered people will outperform any group of experts or any collection of best practices.

Change-Friendly Leadership in 10 Minutes

My work at 5 Minutes to Process Improvement Success, where I interview top practitioners to talk about their best strategies, has resulted in an interesting phenomenon.  The interviews seem to resonate with many people who are then motivated to contact me.  They talk about how their talents are being vastly underutilized and how much they would like to make a more of a difference.  We’ve all seen it and probably experienced it.  One person who reached out to me is Marie Maher who is a contributor to this post.

Marie and I recently teamed up on writing a book review of Change-Friendly Leadership by Dr. Roger Dean Duncan.  Because we share a passion for improving organizations and making them places where people can make a contribution, we thought it would be a worthwhile read.  We wanted to relate the book to our own experiences from our perspective of often being on the front line of many change projects.

Marie and I gained many valuable ideas from reading the book.  Although some chapters offer more depth than some readers will want to consume, the book is filled with great ideas and techniques that will help any change project be more friendly and successful.

Marie’s excellent book review of Change-Friendly Leadership is posted here.  Bill’s book highlights were captured and posted here.

What’s been your experience?  If you agree we are chasing too many fads, how do you think we can solve this problem?

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

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What People Are Saying

Pam Witzemann  |  20 Feb 2013  |  Reply

Hi Bill, I’m not part of a corporation but I still find this very interesting. One of the biggest problems I see in our society today, is in the fact that we are so used to hierarchy that we readily accept that our value must be earned. We value ourselves and others by how much power and authority we are able to gain from others. There is a lot of talk about equality but the modern concept of equality is that it is earned and only realized in outcomes of sameness. I think focusing on all people being equal in value and not needing a leader to rule in authority over anyone, is the best way to value and empower all people. Accepting diversity, rather than subjecting it to equal outcomes, makes it possible for every individual to contribute what only that person can contribute. It is a subtle change in attitude that I think, has the power to change the world.


Bill Fox  |  22 Feb 2013  |  Reply

Hi Pam, thank you for your very thoughtful comments. I’m glad I waited a day to reflect on them because it took me a day to take it in and realize how insightful and interesting they are. Most of us truly have been conditioned to believe that our value must be earned. That’s probably not apparent to most of us without deep reflection. But what if we can all come to better appreciate how valuable each and every one of us is already and that we all have enormous passion, intellect and creativity that can be unleashed. Unfortunately, there are far too few hierarchical leaders who think like that who can catalyze that type of thinking and behavior in their followers.

It is my belief that we can all become leaders right where we are at any level and start to impact and change our world. We can all show up with our own unique value by recognizing we have the choice and the opportunity. The only person stopping us is ourselves. My journey over the past three years has been a journey in self-leadership, and it has completely transformed my world. I truly believe it’s possible for all of us to take this journey and that is my message, and I believe a key to transforming our organizations.

Pam Witzemann  |  22 Feb 2013  |  Reply

Hi Bill, I’m a big believer in the ripple-effect.:0)No good teacher believes in replacing what a student knows with what that teacher knows. People can only learn what they are able to learn and synergize with their own knowledge and understanding. Changing attitudes can’t be done by force. The best way is to live what we believe and be open to hearing what others believe, as well. My thoughts have been on equal value and though the message is an ancient one and doesn’t originate with me, it has changed my life too. It’s amazing how people in the higher levels of hierarchy respond when we choose to view them as equals, It also, is amazing how it changes those who believe they have nothing to offer because they have no place in that hierarchy, when we elevate them by our treatment of them. Being eye-to-eye and face-to-face does a lot in holding people accountable. Change isn’t so much an outcome as it is a process. I see that we have each embraced a process that is helping us to become more fully who we are intended to be. Indiviualism seems like chaos to most people, these days, but there is a wonderful order in chaos that can’t be replicated by an attitude of manufacturing human beings in the same way that we manufacture products. I simply adore chaos!


Bill Fox  |  24 Feb 2013  |  Reply

Hi Pam, thank you for more great thoughts and wisdom. I couldn’t agree with you more on everything you brought up above. The whole idea of being eye-to-eye and on an equal footing with others impacting accountability is a powerful insight I believe. The whole idea of wonderful order in chaos isn’t a topic I’ve explored much, so I’d be interested in additional references or thinking you have around this topic. Thanks again for responding so thoughtfully!


Gail Severini  |  23 Feb 2013  |  Reply

Your cliff jumping metaphor is a great one and it makes the answer obvious to me. “Why do we keep implementing change like this?” Because it’s more fun and there are relatively few consequences. Okay I am being a glib. However, having spent 20+ years in strategy execution as an internal and external in a couple of dozen organizations, I have come to believe that there are systemic issues – as in ‘built into the systems and culture of the organization’.

In back rooms people will tell you: “this is the third time we are taking a run at this strategy”, “people may get fired but that’s rare” or “those who get fired are charged with executing the strategy not those who designed it”. There is little connection between what is the ideal strategy for the organization and what is the feasible strategy for the organization. Those in execution are always preparing the contingency decoys (they have to because it is a survival technique), i.e. the initiative fell short because … x competitor changed their strategy; y change in external environment (economic collapse, FX rate blind side, etc) or z supplier failed (delivered late, over budget or inferior product).

The real problems are more like: executives are more focused on quarterly reporting than they are on 3 yr strategic plans (compromises always undermine the long term); this is too much change for the organization (i.e. bandwidth, adaptation capacity); the independences (read cross-silo) are not well understood; leaders are not fully committed because they have to hedge for survival, promotion, next move.

I would add to the excellent points above:
– Stop jumping into strategy. I know, feels like plenty of time is spent upfront?yet, still we fail. Invest more time in better planning. Try a few different things: play through the strategy with the whole team and probe the cross functional implications; bring those executing into the strategy process and make those designing strategy work in the business, on the floor. “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.”Albert Einstein
– Jettison the notion of ‘creative tension’, i.e. when executives have to compete (for ideas, resources, power, etc) they perform better. This is a fallacy. The only way to succeed going forward is to collaborate. Internal competition is toxic to collaboration. Collaboration is a major culture change?invest in it appropriately.
– Stop firing people for failing – fire for incompetence. They are actually qualitatively different tho hard to differentiate. You want to keep competent people who failed so that the organization does not make the same mistake next time.
The obvious answer is this: if we want different results we have to do different things. Alas what may be obvious is not simple.

Great post-really fired up my brain today. I will be further developing it for my blog and will reference back here as well.

Bill Fox  |  24 Feb 2013  |  Reply

Hi Gail, thank you for all the feedback, and I’m glad you enjoyed the cliff metaphor. You almost had me for a second when you said “because it’s more fun and there are few consequences!” Some truth to that I suppose! :) Your experience with back room conversations, systemic issues, and the realities executives face sounds all too familiar.

I really like your recommendations. Experimenting with strategy with the whole team and probing cross functional implications sounds like very sound advice. I’m with you on rejecting the whole idea of creative tension. I’ve seen it cause more harm over and over again. I also loved the idea of separating out incompetence from failure.

I’m really looking forward to your upcoming blog post. I will make sure we have a reference back to your post here too, so we can all follow the thread.

Thank you sharing your experience and all your great insights here!


Pam Witzemann  |  25 Feb 2013  |  Reply

Morning Bill, Chaos is the creative process.:0)


Bill Fox  |  25 Feb 2013  |  Reply

In that case, Pam. I’ll all for that type of chaos! :)


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