Quick Thoughts: Making a Difference and Honouring Future Ancestors

luis-alvoeiro-quaresma-VOaIhSvoCXU-unsplash.jpgIt’s kind of amazing how quickly things start to pile up and one’s good intentions, the proverbial “best laid plans,” are thrown to the wayside. When I first came back to writing here, my intention, my plan, was to write every workday. Slowly, I relaxed my goal to three days a week (as a way of going easier on myself with the fall returning — which meant things were picking up in my role as a public servant and as a professor). Then, things became so hectic that I was having a hard time carving out any time to write. Before I knew it, almost a month has passed since the last time I hit publish. Sigh.

As I said when I returned a couple of months ago, one of the reasons for writing is to get the thoughts out of my head and onto the page to make room for new thoughts. Even though it’s been about a month, that doesn’t mean the ideas haven’t stopped flowing. I’ve got a number of drafts in progress, so I thought that I’d go ahead and flush them out into a “Quick Thoughts” post.

Make a difference where you can. On Duhigg’s podcast a couple of months ago, there was a guest that had gone through severe trauma. All he can really do is focus on what’s in front of him. Listening, it made me wonder if it’s incumbent upon the rest of us to make a difference in bigger ways. I’m worried that I’m not expressing myself clearly here and part of me really wants to flesh this out into a longer article to nuance what I’m saying (i.e. anyone can make a big impact no matter their station in life), but I’m thinking about those among us who might be relatively lucky to be where they are. Are we obliged — should we feel obliged — to try to make the biggest impact we can?

Visualize and make it so. The “Meditative Story” from a few weeks back was also a good one. I struggle with stuff like this because it’s native to me. I grew up with influences like this (i.e. visualization, see it and believe it, etc.), but I recognize that it’s often written off as self-help hokum. Does that mean we should all dismiss it out of hand? Were all methods used today seen as the pantheon when they began? Am I using false equivalence? [Maybe.]

Oprah and Eckhart Tollle. Another good podcast episode (surprise!). This one is with Oprah and Eckhart Tolle. It really reminded me of that Anderson Cooper and Stephen Colbert interview from a few weeks ago. In the Oprah/Eckhart interview, Eckhart is talking about bumper stickers and how some folks will have something like, “I’d rather be fishin’,” or something like that. Then, he mentions how Ram Dass has a bumper sticker, too, that says, “I’d rather be here now.” For those unfamiliar, Dass wrote a book called Be Here Now almost 50 years ago.

Honour one’s future ancestors. I don’t remember exactly where I heard this, but I believe the context had to do with our responsibility to take care of the planet (which I’ll quibble with monetarily). The idea of us doing well by our planet as a way of honouring our future ancestors sounds lovely. Now, to quibble — there’s something about the messaging for climate change, environmentalism, etc. that just doesn’t resonate with some segments of the population. I’m not an expert here, but that part seems clear. I know that some folks try to personalize it as a way of hoping that it gets more people involved, but I don’t know that it does. Greta has certainly inspired quite a few people. I really hope that this momentum carries forward and we — as a species — are able to honour our future ancestors.

Dumb Luck, Predestined Fate, or Neither

austin-chan-ukzHlkoz1IE-unsplash.jpgThere’s lots that could be said on today’s anniversary, but the one piece that stood out to me is in The AtlanticOn 9/11, Luck Meant Everything: When the terrorist attacks happened, trivial decisions spared people’s lives—or sealed their fate. I don’t want to copy/paste the whole article here, so I’ll just include the paragraphs that hammer the point home:

In researching my new book, The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11, I’ve spent the past three years reading and listening to thousands of personal stories from that Tuesday—stories from Americans all across the country and people far beyond our shores. In all those published accounts and audio clips, and in the interviews I conducted, one theme never ceases to amaze me: the sheer randomness of how the day unfolded, who lived, who died, who was touched, and who escaped. One thousand times a day, we all make arbitrary decisions—which flight to book, which elevator to board, whether to run an errand or stop for coffee before work—never realizing the possibilities that an alternate choice might have meant. In the 18 years since 9/11, each of us must have made literally 1 million such decisions, creating a multitude of alternate outcomes we’ll never know.

Randomness giveth and randomness taketh away. Some folks have a hard time believing in fate, believing that life is predestined. And to their credit, what fun would that be, if every decision you were going to make were already made for you. That you were just following some preordained plan. To others, this brings comfort. They like the idea that there’s someone or something watching over them and the rest of the world. I remember being asked the question many years ago, “Do you believe in free will or fate?” With a wry grin, I responded something to the effect of, “Hmmm, I believe that we have free will to choose to believe in fate.”

In both the Pentagon and New York, fate played a key role in the escapes. Army Lieutenant Colonel Rob Grunewald was sitting in a conference room with his colleagues when American Airlines Flight 77 hit. “The plane came into the building and went underneath our feet, literally, by a floor,” he said later. “Where everybody went and how they get out of the room is very unique, because those are where decisions are made that are fatal, or cause injury, or cause mental fatigue, or great consternation. A bunch of my officemates that were in that meeting went in one direction and unfortunately didn’t make it. The person that sat to my right, the person that sat to my left apparently went out the door and took a right, and they went into the E-Ring, where they apparently perished. A decision to go in one direction or another was very important.” For his part, Grunewald paused for a minute to rescue a colleague, Martha Cardin, and thus was just a few steps behind the others leaving the damaged conference room. In the smoke, he and Cardin turned left instead of right—a decision that saved their lives.

It is darn near impossible to know when things like this will happen and more importantly, to know when a seemingly innocuous decision to return to your hotel room to change your shirt can save your life (and change the course of your fated history or keep you on the path of your fated history). So, how can we live in a world like this? How do we reconcile? How do we make peace with making decisions in our day-to-day? How do we know when to go left and when to go right?

There are any number of ways to answer that question. The answer that’s most congruent for me — and the answer that I wish more of us chose — requires an internal alignment with ourselves. It requires knowing ourselves and trusting ourselves.

~

There’s a new podcast that’s come out recently called, “Meditative Story.” It shares compelling first-person stories from people talking about a time in their life when everything changed for them. There’s one episode in particular I want to highlight here and it comes from Arianna Huffington (yes, that Arianna Huffington).

In it, she’s talking about growing up in Greece. She was thumbing through a magazine and she saw a picture of Cambridge. The moment she saw it, she knew — that was where she was meant to go. There was something inside of her, something that knew, that’s where she was supposed to be next. This, from a young woman who didn’t speak a lick of English, knowing that she’s supposed to go to a university on the other side of Europe. Details, small details.

Of course, she would go on to do the work to get herself there, but the part I want to focus on here is the alignment. When she saw the picture, something inside of her recognized a part of what her future could be — Cambridge. There was something about seeing that picture that sparked something inside of her. While it’s probably a bit much to ask for us to operate on this level on a day-to-day basis all the time (but maybe not?), part of me wishes that we could, at a minimum, increase the frequency with which we all tap into this part of ourselves to make decisions.

Science is Awesome: Humans Can Breathe Liquid

Depending upon one’s teachers at school when they were younger (or older), there can be an affinity for or a strong aversion from science. I remember fondly some of the teachers I had in science (and then in physics and chemistry, when I was able to pick different topics in science). Heck, I even remember the analogy my biology professor used to explain diffusion at university.

I recognize that not everyone feels this way about science and talks of “randomized controlled trials” (RCTs), experiments, studies, or anything with language like that can be intimidating. This is certainly frustrating. There is so much good that comes from science (of course, there are some not so nice externalities sometimes), but we’ll just say that science has certainly been a net positive for society through time. If you need a clear example, the life expectancy of a person born in the US at the turn of the last last century (1900), was mid-to-late-40’s. Nowadays, some people’s true career doesn’t start until they’ve turned 50!

Anyway, so yes, the subheadline of today’s post — humans can breathe liquid. Just as a brief aside, can you imagine how cool that would be if this were true? Can you imagine plumbing the depths of the Marianas trench (uh, a really deep part of the ocean) without needing to be in a vessel (OK, OK, easy before some of you write me to say that the human body couldn’t withstand that kind of pressure — let’s just imagine for a moment that that wouldn’t happen).

Right — breathing liquid. A few weeks ago, I came across an article that I thought was some sort of science fiction or at least theoretical (i.e. humans used to breathe liquid, but we don’t anymore). Turns out, it’s not. Turns out, doctors have newborns (!) breathe liquid to help stabilize their lungs (WTF!?). OK, so here’s an excerpt:

Seven years later [1995], another team using refined liquid breathing techniques tried PFC liquid ventilation on 13 premature babies suffering from severe respiratory distress who were not expected to survive. Liquid breathing resulted in an improvement for a majority of the infants, potentially by stabilizing alveoli and reducing surface tension within the nascent lungs. Put more simply, the premies’ lungs weren’t ready for a gas environment, and PFC provided a nurturing bridge been amniotic fluid in the womb and outside air. Incredibly, eight of the infants survived at four-month follow-up.

The human body is pretty cool, eh? Science is awesome.

Life is a Gift — and so is Suffering

lina-trochez-ktPKyUs3Qjs-unsplash.jpgA few weeks ago, there was a rather poignant interview that aired between Stephen Colbert and Anderson Cooper. I didn’t see or read much of the coverage of it, but the thing that kept coming across my feed was the first thirty seconds of the clip below. And, in seeing the views on this video, it looks like a lot of people were touched by the moment:

 

Here’s the first thirty seconds:

Cooper: You told an interviewer that you have learned to, in your words, ‘love the thing that I most wish had not happened.’ You went on to say, ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ Do you really believe that?

Colbert: Yes… it’s a gift to exist and with existence comes suffering. There’s no escaping that.

Lots of folks are keying in on these thirty seconds and, naturally, there’s a lot in there to chew on. Colbert’s sadness is evident and Cooper’s empathy is very apparent as he asks the question, while choking back tears. To my eyes, it’s the 120 seconds that follows.

I don’t have the time to transcribe that bit at the moment, so I’ll just briefly summarize — Colbert talks about how important gratitude is for the things that have happened in your life, whether they are positive or negative. He’s focusing on the negative here because of the question from Cooper. He talks about how he realized the lesson of having gratitude for things that have caused him suffering, rather than learning the lesson. This is important to him and in watching it, you can feel that this is something that he feels deep in his bones. It’s not some intellectual exercise that he’s worked through to come to the conclusion that he must accept the bad with the good — it’s part of him.

With human existence, comes suffering, and Colbert believes that this suffering has allowed him to have deeper relationships with the people in his life who have also suffered. He feels like he can better understand where they’re coming from because he has had this very traumatic experience early on in his life.

The best part is his philosophy on life — wanting to be the most human — not the best human, but the most human. And since suffering is part of the human experience, he welcomes (maybe not welcomes), but he’s grateful for those experiences, too.

Uncertainty: Accounting for Known and Unknown Outcomes

jayakody-anthanas-m1wFkw-Iyt8-unsplash.jpgNote: for the last few posts, I’ve been exhausting the store-house of prewritten pieces from other websites that I hadn’t yet transferred to this website. I believe all have been posted here now, so let’s return to our regularly scheduled programming.

I’ve had an article saved on Pocket for a few months now with a section highlighted. I don’t often highlight sections of articles because I don’t often keep articles on Pocket — once I’ve read it, I delete it (so the highlighting is superfluous). However, there was an article I came across a few months ago with a passage that stopped me in my tracks. It was in a rather weeds-y article about the Twitter war strongly worded discussion (?) between Nate Silver and Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I won’t get into the details of it, because it’s not really necessary for the passage that popped, though I did want to set the context, in case anyone clicked through to the link and was confused.

About halfway through the article, the author begins a discussion on uncertainty. In particular, he’s talking about two kinds of uncertainty — aleatory and epistemic. [NOTE: You’re not alone if you had to look up aleatory — I don’t recall every coming across that word.] Anyway, here’s the key bit:

Aleatory uncertainty is concerned with the fundamental system (probability of rolling a six on a standard die). Epistemic uncertainty is concerned with the uncertainty of the system (how many sides does a die have? And what is the probability of rolling a six?).

How many times have you come across a model that purports to be able to predict the outcome of something — without there being a way to “look under the hood” of the model and see how it came to its conclusions? OK, maybe looking under the hood doesn’t suit your fancy, but I bet you partake in the cultural phenomenon that is following who’s “up or down” in the election forecast for 2020? Will POTUS be re-elected? Will the other party win? Or what about our friends on the other side of the pond — Brexit!? Will there be a hard Brexit, a soft Brexit, are they going to hold another election?!

All things, all events where the author of the piece or the creator of the model might not be adequately representing (or disclosing) the amount of epistemic risk inherent in answering the underlying question.

~

So let’s bring this closer to home for something that might be more applicable. You make decisions — everyday. Some of you might make decisions that have an impact on a larger number of people, but regardless of the people impacted, the decisions you make have effects. When you take in information to make that decision, when you run it through your internal circuitry, the internal model you have for how your decision will have an effect, are you accounting for the right kind of uncertainty? Do you think that you know all possible outcomes (aleatory) and so the probabilities are “elementary, my dear Watson,” or is it possible that the answer to whether you should have cereal for breakfast is actually, “elephants in the sky,” (epistemic). OK, maybe a bit dramatic and off-beat in the example there, but you never know when you’re going to see elephants in the sky when you ponder what kind of breakfast cereal to pull down off the top of the fridge.

In the End, It’s About How You Make Them Feel: Parenting Without Borders, Conclusion

Many, many moons ago, I started a series on the book Parenting Without Borders. Before I finished writing about the book, I took a bit of a hiatus. Since I saw a half-written post in my drafts section when I returned to the website, I thought I’d tidy it up and publish it. For those of you unfamiliar with the book, the first paragraph will be super-helpful in reviewing what you’ll find throughout the book, as I link back to each post in the series and provide a quick sentence that explains the gist.

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Part 2, we explored “stuff” and how having more of it might not be best for our children. In Part 3, we looked at how different cultures relate to food in the context of parenting. In Part 4, we looked at how saying “good job” to our little ones might not have the effect we think it does. In Part 5, we talked about the virtues of allowing our little ones the space to work through problems on their own. In Part 6, we examined the importance of unstructured “play.”In Part 7 and Part 8, we explored what education is like in East Asia and Finland. In Part 9, we looked at cultural notions of kindness in raising kids. In Part 10, we explored the possibility that parenting might be fostering a sense of helplessness in children today. And finally, today, we’ve reached the conclusion.

From the conclusion of the book, I’ve pulled out a few quotes that really stood out for me, so I thought I’d share them here with maybe a sentence or two from me following each.

In Kenya every child is a precious gift — not only to the mother, but to the whole society. People greet a new mom with the words, “Thank you. Thank you, and welcome to this guest that you’ve brought to us.”

What a lovely sentiment? Can you imagine if this was what was said to each new mother in the days that followed their bundle of joy’s entrance into the world?

In our zeal to make sure our own child has everything he needs (because if we don’t look out for him, who will?), caring for one another is inevitably low on our list of priorities. Instead of finding ways to help support and encourage parents, we give them space and stay out of their way (but all too often judge each other’s parenting choices, secretly believing that if someone else’s child is having problems, only his parents are to blame). As a result, in [the USA], parents are on their own.

Any new parents out there? Any new moms out there who feel completely alone staying at home with their new son/daughter? Yeah, I’ve heard this feeling expressed many times over for folks here in North America and it makes me sad. It makes me sad that we isolate new parents at precisely the time they need the “village” the most.

Immigrant families aren’t a threat to America’s moral culture. Rather, America is a threat to immigrant children’s moral development.

This was a quote that, when I came back to it, felt surprisingly powerful to read (especially in the context of some of the current state of affairs in the US).

Growing up in an environment that priorities care over competition and cooperation over judgment benefits all children and all families.

Can you imagine what it would be like to be reared (or to rear) in an environment that de-emphasized competition and promoted care. In an environment that promoted prosocial behaviour? An environment that held in the highest esteem behaviour that was helping? What might the world look like if that were true?

Good parenting is […] about how we’re involved and what we focus on cultivating.

In the end, as is the case with many things in life, it’s less about the “what” and more about the “how.” It’s less about what you’re doing and more about how you’re doing it. It’s not the act, it’s how you make them feel.

Outcomes vs. Outputs – The “How’s” of Decision-Making

71GiSvm+a0LRecently, I read (er, re-read?) Phil Tetlock’s Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction. This book came out a couple of years ago (and was co-authored by Dan Gardner, whom I believe is a senior advisor to Prime Minister Trudeau – or was at one point, I’m not sure if he still is). Anyway, the book is excellent and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants expand their understanding of decision-making.

The reason I’m mentioning this book today is because of one of the chapters: The Leader’s Dilemma. The crux of the chapter is a juxtaposition between the central theme of the book – individual superforecasters and their ability to remain steadfast in the face of uncertainty and the fact that leaders need to take action. They can’t waffle in their decision-making – they have to choose. The chapter invokes a German General from the 1800’s, Helmuth von Moltke. To be frank, I haven’t read many books (or seen many documentaries/videos, for that matter) about military leadership and strategy, so this was new to me.

You: Jeremiah, why are you talking to us about German Generals from 200 years ago?

Me: I’m going somewhere with this, I promise, just hang with me for a bit.

So, Moltke. He had a particular way of leading that is often characterized by the German word Auftragstaktik. In English, we know this as mission command. Essentially, this style of leadership boils down to top-down intent, but bottom-up(ish) execution. For example, the leader of the military would say that we need to expand our defenses west, but the leader wouldn’t say how we’re going to do it. Instead, the order makes its way down the hierarchy – absent the how, every time! – until someone would then be executing on that order.

The key here is that there’s no prescription for how to do something when the order is given. The emphasis is on the outcome. Expand our defenses west. Invade that country. Secure that town. OK. So, why is this important? Moltke: “In war, everything is uncertain.” If a General were to give prescriptive orders about how to takeover a bridge, there will absolutely be things that occur on the ground that aren’t accounted for in the General’s orders. Maybe there’s heavy rainfall, which presents a problem for the troops who were told to stake out in the nearby field and wait for the cover of night to execute the plan. Maybe when they arrive, the enemy has three times (!) as many soldiers there to defend the bridge. What will they do? Well, they’ll have to callback to HQ, as everything’s being run through the General.

/It’s at this point that, if I were doing a video of this, I’d splice in a scene from Family Feud where Steve Harvey (or Ray Combs) points to the big board and says, “Show me… waiting for orders from HQ when you’re under heavy fire and have no place to go…”

/Stttttttttrrrrriiiikkkkkkeeee

Yeah, that strategy will not pan out – every time. OK, so we’ve established that in the military, they push decision-making down the hierarchy. How does that relate to us, you might be asking?

Well, how many things do you do at work where you have complete control over how you do them? We need to brief the Director, quick write a briefing note.

/Stttttttttrrrrriiiikkkkkkeeee

What if a briefing note isn’t the best way to brief the Director? What if the Director would rather a quick 2-minute meeting to explain what’s going on, rather than you spending the next 2+ hours crafting the ‘perfect’ briefing note, only to have your manager spend an hour after that re-writing the whole thing? And how does it make you feel after you’ve done all that work, had most of it invalidated by your manager, and then the Director calls you and your manager in anyway because he doesn’t want to read 300 words on the topic, but instead, wants to have a quick chat about it.

~

Or let’s say you’re working in operations – the front lines – where the proverbial ‘government meets the Canadian.’ You’re working with a Canadian who needs a new passport, but is having trouble getting it. Your performance metrics are clear – you’ve already spent 20+ minutes on the phone and if you stay on the phone longer, you know that you’re not going to be able to meet your performance objective because this call will inflate your average time on call.

/Stttttttttrrrrriiiikkkkkkeeee

Clearly, time on call isn’t the best metric to use to evaluate folks who answer calls from Canadians, but the order has already been given from down on high (we need to spend only x-amount of time on the phone with Canadians because it’s part of my performance agreement that our average call-time improves year-over-year).

~

Or how about this – the DM has decided that the department is short on funds so we’re going to reorg two branches – they’re now going to become one branch. *gasp* The ADMs filter the message down to the DGs that they want these directorates axed, the others merged, and some others expanded. The DGs filter that message down to the Directors about which divisions will be axed, merged, and expanded. The Directors filter that message down to the managers about whose role will be shifting, reassigned, or expanded. The managers filter that message down to their teams. And at the end of this exercise no one is happy.

There were no consultations, no engagements, and no empowerment. People were told what they were going to do and how they were going to do it. No one considered that the people they were managing might have ideas about how to do things better. The person filtering the message down was always assumed to be ‘right.’ That’s no way to run a firm and it’s certainly no way to manage change in an organization. Push the “how” of decision-making down the hierarchy. The people you hired are smart (otherwise you wouldn’t have hired them, right?). Let them prove your decision to hire them was a smart one. They can’t wait to do it.

This post originally appeared on GCconnex/GCcollab.

Mutual Trust or Mutual Bust

liane-metzler-B32qg6Ua34Y-unsplashWhen I’m walking on the sidewalk, I trust that the cars will drive on the road. When the cars are driving down the road, they trust that pedestrians will walk on the sidewalk. When I sit down at a restaurant to eat, I trust that the server will bring me the food as quickly as possible. When the meal is finished, the server trusts that I will pay my bill. When I board an airplane, I trust that the two people in the cockpit have completed the requisite training to pilot the aircraft safely to our destination. When the pilots sit in the cockpit, they trust that passengers will sit quietly in the cabin and not interfere with the pilots’ ability to fly the plane.

What’s the common denominator in all these circumstances? Trust. More specifically, mutual trust. Both parties trust each other. Now, you might be asking yourself – why?

Why is it that when I walk down the street that I trust cars to stay in the road? Why is it that when cars are driving on the road, they trust pedestrians to stay on the sidewalk? Well, you could argue that the trust is there because the rules (i.e. law) stipulate that that must be what happens, but that doesn’t explain the whole picture, nor does it explain most of the picture. The reason that pedestrians and cars alike trust each other is because there’s a body of evidence that suggests they should trust each other.

There’ve been numerous occasions for each where they’ve walked/driven down the road and the other has walked/driven down the road. After years and years of repetition, after years and years of reinforcement that this is how we do things, cars and pedestrians have grown to trust each other that each will continue to abide by the norms of sidewalks and roads.

So, what happens when there isn’t trust between the parties? What happens if the pedestrians and the cars didn’t trust each other to continue doing what they’ve always done? Well, there’s going to be elevated levels of stress for both the cars and the pedestrians. The people walking down the street will constantly be looking over their shoulder or gazing out into the road and wondering whether that car will swerve up onto the sidewalk. The cars driving down the road will wonder as they approach a pedestrian whether or not that pedestrian will lurch out into the road.

That doesn’t sound like a state of being in which anyone would want to exist.

Trust is foundational to this interaction. Trust is foundational to a lot of interactions. And when it comes to the workplace, trust is *it.* It is the be-all, end-all. If you want your people to do something, they need to trust you and you need to trust them. Nobody wants to work for someone they don’t trust and who could blame them. They’d never know when that “car” is going to swerve and hit them on the sidewalk.

I can respect that you might not be fully convinced – heck, I really backed into that change management tie-in, eh?

Well, here’s a better example. Life and death. Literally. Remember the Ebola outbreak from a few years ago? There was some excellent reporting on this and in fact, quite a wild story as to how the ‘world’ was able to get a handle on what was happening in West Africa. If you have the time, I highly encourage taking the time to listen to or read the story.

The key piece I wanted to highlight from the story is that there were people from the CDC (i.e. government) who were dealing with an emerging situation. A situation that could easily cost the lives of hundreds or thousands (!) of people. They were racing against time and against the norms/mores of the cultures of West Africa. There were people who were predisposed to mistrust anyone from outside their village, much less people from any sort of “government” agency. In order for the CDC to get to do what it needed to do, it had to gain trust extremely quickly. The one problem is “gaining trust” and “quickly” are usually antithetical. You usually aren’t able to gain trust quickly, but the CDC had no choice. This was life and death. In the end, the folks from the government saw a window into doing this (I won’t spoil it for you, as it’s worth it to listen or read it).

The point here is that trust is foundational. If you are trying to move people (and what is change management if it isn’t moving people?), you must – must, must, must – gain their trust – FIRST. If you haven’t done that, then anything you try and do will be twice as hard and take twice as long. Do yourself – and your people – a favour: first, earn trust.

This post originally appeared on GCconnex/GCcollab.

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same… Wait What?

Change management is the cornerstone of shepherding an organization through and to change. And since change is the only constant in life [side note: how many articles are there out there about change management where you think Heraclitus is not mentioned?], it seems pretty important that we understand the best ways to go about doing that.

When I think about the times that I’ve aided in an organization undergoing large-scale change, I think about the principles used to help bring that to fruition. Some lean on approaches like Kotter’s 8-step change model while others lean on approaches like ADKAR. For as long as I’ve been part of making change happen more smoothly (or teaching it to university students!), I don’t remember coming across this approach –

Emphasize What Will Stay the Same

Wait, what? We’re changing things here, why do we want to talk about what’s staying the same? We need to sell our people on this new vision and way of doing things. Won’t this torpedo our efforts?

Well, as it happens, no, it won’t. An excerpt [Emphasis Added]:

A root cause of resistance to change is that employees identify with and care for their organizations. People fear that after the change, the organization will no longer be the organization they value and identify with — and the higher the uncertainty surrounding the change, the more they anticipate such threats to the organizational identity they hold dear. Change leadership that emphasizes what is good about the envisioned change and bad about the current state of affairs typically fuels these fears because it signals that changes will be fundamental and far-reaching.

We announce that a change is coming and then people begin to fear the ramifications of losing what it is that they know. We then think that by emphasizing how things are going to be better (read: different) that this will then onboard people to this new vision, when instead, we’re giving them even more reason to dig in their heels against the change. Wow. It reminds me of those times in parenting when, as the parent, you want things not to go a certain way and by espousing that wish, you unintentionally expedite its occurrence.

What should we do, then? Well, how about:

In overcoming resistance to change and building support for change, leaders need to communicate an appealing vision of change in combination with a vision of continuity.

Let’s see if we can apply this knowledge:

  • We’re going to centralize all IT within the federal government. While this change will help us realize efficiencies upon efficiencies, our main goal is – and always will be – to continue to deliver exemplary service to Canadians.
  • We’re going to fundamentally improve the way that public servants apply for positions within the federal government. This change will allow us to better track the knowledge and experience of public servants and of the kinds of skills required of hiring managers across the government. While the interface for jobs.gc.ca will appear different, you’ll still be able to offer hiring managers the same information you did previously (more efficiently to boot!).
  • We’re going to Make America Kind Again increase the level of respect within the federal public service. You’ll still come to work and work on all the same cool things that you get to work today, but now we want to emphasize actions and behaviours that end harassment, curb negative behaviours, and multiply positive behaviours.

Can you think of other examples where you can apply this approach in your upcoming (ongoing) change management efforts?

This was cross-posted to GCconnex/GCcollab.

The Inevitability of Change Forces Faith in the Flexibility of the Flow

You awake on Monday morning ready to meet the day. You’re excited about work today because your new manager is finally ready to join the team. You feel pretty happy to prepare to change your signature from A/Manager back to Senior Analyst/Officer/etc. You get yourself ready to go and make your favourite breakfast because – why not – today’s a great day!

You catch the earlier bus into town because you wanted to make sure that you’ve crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s before the new manager arrives. The clock strikes 9 and it’s time for the weekly management meeting. You grab your notebook and head for the elevators – happy that this will be the last time you attend one of these meetings as the manager.

You exit the elevator and head to the boardroom. The DG and the Directors are already there. You take your seat as the remaining managers file into the room. The DG begins the meeting and you can hardly contain yourself. You’re already looking forward to this afternoon when you can begin working on that side-of-the-desk project you’ve been eyeing for weeks. Your reverie is cut short because you notice your Director is now speaking and they start talking about one of the files from your team. (Ha! Soon to be something that your new manager will be concerned with, not you, you think to yourself.) Your Director takes a beat and looks at you, so you add a bit more colour to what they were saying before the conversation changes gears.
The Director begins to speak again and you hear something, or at least you thought you heard something. The Director begins speaking about the new manager status except they’re not doing it in a jovial tone. And then you can feel the blood draining from your face as you quickly realize what the Director has just said. “The new manager we’d hired to fill the vacancy won’t be able to join us. So, you’re going to be filling in as the A/Manager… indefinitely.”

How could this happen?! The Director told me that it would be for just a short period of time. Just a stop-gap to fill-in, until they could bring in someone more permanent. I just want to be the person who does the stuff, I don’t want to be the person who manages the stuff. How could my Director do this to me?!

All kinds of thoughts rush through your head, all sorts of scenarios cascade in your head from the potential avenues you could take. Instead, you steel yourself in your chair, feign a smile and say, “Happy to help the team however I can.” The Director gives you a nod and moves onto other business.

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There’s a lot to unpack in the above narrative, but I want to draw your attention to the change management aspects (naturally).

Clearly, the “you” in this have lots of feelings about what’s happening (and not happening) in your work environment. You probably feel rather miffed to find out you’ll be continuing on in the manager’s role at the management meeting. Why didn’t the Director tell you before – that seems pretty disrespectful, doesn’t it?

Well, what if I told you that the incoming manager’s mother just had a heart attack and so your manager-to-be had to the cancel their plans for the assignment as your new manager from another government department because all their energy is now spent either at the hospital with their mom or at home with their kids? And what if I told you that the heart attack happened early this morning, so your Director only just found out about it and only just had time to tell the DG and the other Directors, but wasn’t able to squeeze in five minutes to warn you. And, what if I told you that the Director has also been dealing with a messy divorce, so they haven’t been in their usual tip-top shape, when it comes to being on top of some of the “human” elements to managing.

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We’re supposed to spend 37.5 hours a week working. Some spend more, some spend less. That’s only 33% of our waking hours (assuming that we each get 8 hours of sleep, which is probably laughable, given the statistics). That leaves 67% of our waking hours for non-work things. That is a lot of time to get into other kinds of activities. Some have hobbies like playing guitar or learning how to cook. Others volunteer at the local YMCA and others still, have all sorts of things going on in their lives from sick kids to sick parents to relationships beginning and relationships ending. The varieties of experience for the 250,000+ public servants are endless. The point I’m trying to make is that when we come to work – home office or shared office – we bring our whole selves.

In a perfect world, senior management would draw up an ideal change management strategy that fits into the broader departmental strategy. In an ideal world, you’re given plenty of notice about changes to the files you’re working on and the role you’ll play for the team. In an ideal world, people wouldn’t let that angry conversation they had with their spouse or stranger that morning interfere with how they interact with their colleagues the rest of the day. In an ideal world… an ideal world wouldn’t exist. The world is chaotic. Full stop.

Now, just because the world is chaotic doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still have expectations or goals. But, when it comes to those goals, we need to be more flexible and fluid. For those that prefer metaphors – think of yourselves as Niagara Falls, rather than the pond at the end of the lane. Niagara Falls almost never freezes, whereas the pond down the way freezes whenever the temperature drops below -10°C for a few days. Flexible vs. rigid.

So, how do you know if your goal is too rigid? Well, here’s two ideas (hat tip to Jon Acuff):

  1. You become angry when someone interrupts it.
  2. You beat yourself up if you miss it.

Think back to the narrative above. You were rather upset when you found out you wouldn’t be able to go back to “doing” stuff. Was your goal too rigid? Maybe. How do you think the Director felt when they found out that the manager-to-be’s mother was preventing the manager from coming in? I’d like to think the Director was sad to hear that, but maybe the Director was beating themselves up because they weren’t able to meet the goal. Was the goal too rigid? Maybe.

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Change management initiatives are happening all the time and they’re happening all-around us. What if, instead of thinking, wishing, and hoping that these initiatives were 100% successful based on the plan as written on the page, what if we recognized the rigidity in that and cut each other some slack. What if we, instead, expected some degree of rockiness. What if we built into our expectations that there is going to be some many things that occur unexpectedly and what if we made it our goal to respond to those happy accidents with grace and humility. I wonder what change management in the Government of Canada would look like if we all became ambassadors for flowing with the river.

This post originally appeared on GCconnex/GCcollab.