12 (Not 11) Things I Have Learnt About Change Management

I have spent my whole professional career working in what could be called ‘change management’. In recent years the term and it’s practices have been more widely adopted and in some cases has been productised by consultancy providers (ADKAR, KOTTER, Agile). Here is just a few things I have learnt and had reinforced along the way:

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Bad Behaviour & Being Happily Unhappy At Work

Businessman with shield.Ask people what is wrong in their workplace and you can get an avalanche of woes and with just a little push, as many ideas for fixing them. At least that’s what it sounds like when nobody up the management hierarchy is present. Professor Chris Argyris of Harvard wrote about this a long time ago and frankly the cleaner could have told us that (An Interview with Chris Argyris). What he added were his observations of behaviours that seemed to maintain this situation – behaviours that undermined the ability of the organisation to learn and make appropriate changes. Behaviours that reinforced the social, power structure (hierarchy) and just as often the beliefs and attitudes people held about others. He called these behaviours ‘Organisational Defensive Routines’. Argyris identified that it took a lot of skill to use and maintain these routines. (They can be used to resist change.)

It has struck me that Argyris’s observations has similarities to the observations of Dr. Eric Berne who developed Transactional Analysis (TA) – an approach management trainers flirted with about three to four decades ago. Berne documented interactions in people’s lives that he referred to as ‘Games’. See ‘Games People Play’. Some of the games are relevant to work life and I’m sure we could identify a few that Dr. Berne has missed. One of the fun and obvious games is ‘Harassed’. Here people spend time complaining about workloads and how stressed the situation is. Importantly the participants never take positive steps to rationalise the work and will even take on new tasks. There can be auxiliary games like ‘Lunchbox’ which revolves around eating at your desk, avoiding structured breaks and appearing very committed. The games have a number of benefits including ready-made explanations for any failures/delays/poor standards and evidence of irrational managerial indifference to staff and workloads etcetera. At some point everybody is unhappy with the situation, however in the way that they are supposed to be, leading to the paradoxical conclusion that everybody is happily unhappy. Continue reading

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March 26, 2015 · 9:18 am

(Australian) Science #3 Barry Jones, Politics and the Future

Barry Jones is a rare man. He is an intellectual, an ex-politician (Federal Minister and President of the Labor Party), a lifelong supporter of rationalism, science and humanism. Here is a recent article published in The Conversation, “We must defend science if we want a prosperous future.”

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Barry Jones: Victoria University, Author provided to The Conversation

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The Ukraine # 2 Respect, Brinksmanship and Cold War Tactics?

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The RAF escort a Russian Bear bomber off the coast of the UK. 19th Feb 2015 Image: RAF/EPA

(Not a corporate topic but interesting from a culture perspective)

Russia is demanding the Wests attention when there are lots of distractions. What is it that Putin is up to and should we be listening?

Some time ago I skimmed across the events evolving in the Crimea, the Ukraine and Russia. Since then the East Ukraine has become the hotspot with Russian backed separatists (and Russians) fighting the Ukrainian army. In the meanwhile there has been a disaster when hundreds are murdered on Malaysian Airlines MH17. For a country supporting an undeclared civil and state war this disaster turns out to be just an irritating distraction from the real business. On top of that, the Russian currency and economy is imploding not least because of the fall in gas and oil revenue. So what’s changed? Nothing really. The paranoid Military Class (Note 1) Putin belongs to is still in charge and threatened by NATO encroachment through EU expansion. They were buoyed by their success in Crimea reinforcing Putin’s power, tactics and egotistical self. As the economy withered there was a moment when the political class and the Commercial class seemed like they might be heard. But it was just a moment as the rich (commercial class) and the citizens are still secondary and they know it – An Enclave of Powerful Russians.

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Australian Science #2 A Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist Comes To Town

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CSIRO Image: Earth Receiving Satellite Dish in Tasmania

Australia’s premier public applied science institution, the CSIRO, is appointing a new CEO, Dr. Larry Marshall. He seems an impressive man with an impressive resume. An Australian Physicist (excellent) that has become a serial entrepreneur (fantastic, a true hero of capitalism) and venture capitalist (the angels and the predators of capitalism) based in Palo Alto, Silicon Valley (ahhh!). Kind of begs the question why he has come back to a public institution in Australia? Well he did and he has history with CSIRO (or at least it’s associated enterprises) as a cadet and understands the position is ‘kind of like being handed a national treasure’. Good start. There is a stated and clear intention to be more commercial. Fair enough, especially given the governments view of the relationship between science and business. In fact, on the surface he appears to be  a poster boy for what the government believes and wants. At Dr. Marshall’s first public interview since accepting the position he made clear some of his personal worldview. Scientists need to, and indeed have an obligation to be entrepreneurs. In short, they have an obligation to be more like him. It seems he is not only to be their CEO, he is to be the role model for our scientists. Of course, he is not saying the CSIRO scientists are failures and haven’t met their obligations, though I’m guessing a few of them will think this is exactly what they heard. I’m also sure he doesn’t mean the scientists should all leave Australia and start businesses in other countries that have more entrepreneurial cultures. What we can be thankful for is that he is not a colorless grey suit.

Context Drives Behavior

Dr. Marshall  took himself off to the entrepreneurial, venture, technology startup capital of the Western World. That is very adventurous! He with time became an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurial organizations are driven by a need for survival, to find the Continue reading

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Australian Science – If it was just more like sport!

Science  (Noun): the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

Science Is To Be Ruled & Managed

In Australia lawyers, economists and accountants rule, while the media (journalists, bloggers, talk back radio and others) filter and shape opinion (see The Corporate Classes). Scientists do not rule and are therefore ruled. Hence, science is not judged in the non-scientific community by the peer review of other scientists but by those in power – the lawyers, economists etcetera. The media love an Aussie winning a science prize because for just a few minutes it seems like sport.Then it is back to business as usual. This situation is made easier for the public by one important characteristic of science. That is despite all the benefits science has delivered, including economic, health, lifestyle and aesthetic, it is not directly associated with most of the benefits. People do not look at their iPhone and see all the amazing science that was done to make it possible or for that matter the engineering. What most people do see is a consumer product defined by it’s function, ‘Apple’ PR & marketing and popular culture. (Medical science may be an exception because of certain characteristics – more on that later.)

Is Science Progressive?

Science by it’s nature implies progression and change and the possibility that what we now believe to be true is possibly wrong. Could it be that at the heart of science is a ‘progressive’ philosophy? Could it be that political conservatives conflate the ‘progressive’  nature of science with a ‘progressive’ political view – and if so, then if you are a scientist, you are by definition a ‘progressive’ and so you might as well be a lefty. Is it any wonder that conservative Australians, starting with the conservative government, treat science with suspicion – especially any ‘soft’, social science (it’s even worse for disciplines not considered science such as philosophy, history and art which can be openly mocked). Until science has been bought under managerial control, evaluated using managerial values (e.g. efficiency, productivity, profitability etc.) and turned into ‘moneytorised’ technology or activity it is treated as a marginal, lefty activity for nerdy eccentrics and the socially challenged with no legitimate experience of the real world. Only when plainly obvious to an investment banker how research will create financial benefits does it become of value.* This is not done at all well in Australia (2011 OECD rankings: 21st for R&D expenditure,26th for % large firms with new to market products and only 2.6% of innovations are University research related). Business and University partnerships are much touted by governments but in reality are very shallow. As such many if not most opportunities are lost or taken up by other countries including areas such as solar power and renewable energy.

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Egos and Paranoia in The Ukraine

Russia-Crimea You are probably aware of the situation. Vladimir Putin exercises his power, political judgement and ego. Russia with some military posturing assists Crimea in annexing itself from The Ukraine and then legislates to join Russia. This follows public turmoil in The Ukraine following years of economic malaise and rule by an increasingly oppressive and pro-Russian government.  The newly installed Ukraine Government rejects the annexing and defies Russia by looking to the west – the EU and NATO. That has to upset Russia. The Nato alliance and the UN complain about Russia’s behavior and threaten to implement economic sanctions particularly against wealthy Russian government officials. A simplified class analysis of whose at the big table making the decisions in this drama could be enlightening as to what happens next and as a way of seeing through a lot of detail.

The question is what classes of people are represented in the political class and those making the decisions? In Russia Putin and the key decision makers come from the Military Class (include police and any state secret service in this class as they act as the intellectual arm).  This class can get a bit paranoid. Is my army bigger than your army? Is NATO encroaching on our territory? It can also feed Nationalism (Whose team are you on? If you’re not with us then you’re against us.) They would generally prefer to have a fairly direct approach to a problem. When a military class is in ascendency then it is common practice to use the tools available as political instruments. These tools include media control (propaganda), prisons, physical intimidation and violence. Continue reading

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March 18, 2014 · 10:36 am