Monday, May 2, 2016

Don't Disrupt Me with Creative Disruption!

As change agents in one organization, we often shared a little joke: the best change project is the one no one notices. We were expressing wry frustration that the change projects most celebrated as successful tended to be the ones that resulted in the least actual change - small scope, minimal disruption.

Everyone wants the creative push of creative disruption, but no one actually wants the disruption part. We want to plan, control and analyze away all the risk and take only the upside (by the way, that’s how capitalism got so out-of-touch to begin with). We see any deviation from that as a problem.

I became a little cynical about being asked to bring change that no one would notice in the day-to-day workings. Change is supposed to be noticed - that’s what change is for! To make us notice how we’re doing things now, what we want to keep, add and discard. Change is a chance to stop and pinpoint where resources can be most effective. I believe the most important thing an organization can do is build resilience to deal with the inevitable ways the laws of the quantum universe will muck with our plans just for the fun of seeing us squirm.

Engaged people who care about their jobs can overcome all manner of mis-aligned or just-plain-bad process. Good process, even when followed, can't account for the complexity of the real world. People work best in an environment where they feel safe to be wrong or sometimes weak without recrimination and judgment. That kind of diamond environment is very difficult to create, for real, though everyone will nod and tell you you have it already if you ask them.

I care about organizations that are earnestly engaging the question of how to create more trustworthy environments. Because that is really the key. Trust can only grow in an environment that is worthy of trust. Aligned processes, policies, values and visions. Aligned behaviours, policies, values and visions. Aligned management decisions, values and visions. Regular calibration. Understanding the subtle and systemic rewards and punishments that flow through influence, time and resources. A current running under the flow of work - is it a cross-current, or is it pushing you faster?

We don't have to be afraid of the disruption of change when we are working with the energy of what is, when our team is paddling the same direction, and we have the skills and resiliency to work together when things go wrong. In that environment, we can treat challenges as the information they are, rather than emergencies to blame on someone.

The best change project is the one that honours the relationships, values and vision that matter to the people affected, and still achieves the goal. Which may, in the end, be pretty disruptive.