Digital Transformation & Culture Fog

I’ve been thinking about Martin Couzin’s blog on his take-aways from Learning Live

I’m working with a client on a large-scale Digital Transformation programme at the moment. The organisation is taking time and real care to look at both the technology and integration of the technology to the organisation, with the intention to fundamentally shift/ modernise how the business operates.

The part fuchsia blue is involved in is inquiring into and articulating the cultural/ people readiness part of receiving & working with the technology….. and then showing the fundamental operational shift being discussed …then working to map/ articulate how digital working might actually work for the organisation…including plans, experiences, staff development and so forth.

As is so often the case with anything Cultural, it’s not straightforward to describe or codify. Organisational cultures are experienced, lived, created – they are based on stories and symbols, permissions and preferences. Whilst Project Plans & Operating Models are tidy and contained, typically drawn in neat lines and circles, with linear timelines and milestones, and held in diagrams and semi-permanent drawings, it is rarely possible to capture or represent culture in that way.
Try it. Try to represent your Organisational Culture in a linear fashion.
See how you go.

Operating Models are often complex, but they are rational and explainable – arguably why they can be drawn more neatly.
Culture is deliciously, annoyingly fog-like. Ungraspable. Fuzzy. But undeniably THERE and can REALLY mess up a Programme Boards ability to see, to deliver, to move quickly.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast?
Maybe, but I see it as less aggressive and obvious than that.
Fog clouds clarity.
Culture wraps and curls itself into everything – it permeates hard logic and befuddles clear lines. It is unquestionably present in pretty much every aspect of organisational life… so it kind of tickles me when it’s pinned in as a workstream to be managed. Manage fog, please & then tell me how you did it. (For the record, this client isn’t approaching culture as a workstream – it’s becoming a core part of the design and thinking behind the integration of the tech and it is still taking us some time to figure out how to knit successful delivery of the tech with the cultural information and behaviours identified. It’s not straightforward.)

Ok. So what?

Well, if you are looking to actually transform any part of your culture (digital or otherwise)It’s pretty much essential to understand and work with where you are at now. If you don’t get the real picture of the density of the fog (including inconvenient truths about politics, leadership capability and willingness to give a damn about the future) you are opening yourself up to risks, unseen resistance and lost opportunities/ ideas.
Successfully navigating digital transformation requires the ability to work both with clear structure AND the capacity to work with foggy wooliness/ ambiguity. Sometimes the former is favoured over the latter because the latter is, frankly, a pain in the arse to articulate.
I get that…and it’s wise to get over it.

Operating Model/ Visioning type conversations are an essential part of any process of digital / cultural transformation, however, they tend to be concept heavy, hypothetical, maybe even altruistic & don’t really relate to folks’ day to day experiences of the job they do. (To be clear, an operating model might relate to WHAT folk do, but rarely covers how or why they do it that way).

“Visioning exercises” are great as a means to show where to & how we might get to a transformative point, but it’s folly (in my view) to believe these will somehow “transform” behaviour. Explaining future-states is not how we adapt. If anything it can freak folk out and encourage them to double-down on what they know. Explanation isn’t how we shift folk. Experience is.

We need to bring Operating Models & Visions to life – let staff experience them, talk about them, create them, build stories around them. We have to give staff experiences of what they will use and a say in what they are unlikely to welcome (and they may need to be challenged on this, because often we will claim we don’t need/won’t use/ can’t imagine a thing which actually, given a wee nudge is exactly what’s useful).

If you are seeking digital transformation, the success is boringly analogue. Bring your people in to be part of the design, and not in a tokenistic way… start booking rooms and getting facilitators trained at the procurement stage. Start thinking about how you will use audio, video, the physical spaces in your organisation, to encourage and support folk to interact with what is going on. How will you connect your people to the concept?

If the message is: “We are going to Transform” then work with the reality that new habits take 21 days to form – how much time do we need to allocate to staff to get using this new stuff well, accurately etc? Almost certainly more than you have built in (unless your culture is good at this stuff, in which case, work with that) –

We equally need to do some sort of opposite thing with Culture. Make it less internally experienced, more externally tangible and clear. In this particular piece of work, we are developing a number of areas where we can “benchmark” culture. I get that benchmarking culture is broadly an impossibility, but what we are trying to do is codify & articulate parts of the current behaviours / attitudes, the actions or skills that are more likely to help successfully shift people’s actions and willingness to work with the digital solutions they are being asked to take on.
It gives us points of focus in the fog.
It takes time.
It takes explanation and constantly asking folk who like clarity to have patience with fog.
It’s worth it, if you can make the case to stick with it.

The question that arises, for me, from all of this is perhaps age-old:
How much time have you allocated to the people-part of the transformation and, knowing what we know about the time and effort it takes to create behavioural shift, is it enough?

About me:

Julie Drybrough is a Organisational Consultant, facilitator, executive coach, blogger & dialogue guide. Working with people & orgs to improve conversations, relationships & learning – Doing stuff with love.

Find me on Twitter @fuchsia_blue

Staying Upright

We are facing it again – the illness of a loved one – my family kicked in to an oddly known pattern, following a phonecall… bad news… information…response…. we gather in Scotland. We talk and speculate, we have terrible gallows humour about the grimness of the situation. We crumple. We recover. We hold each other. We separate and stay in touch – messages, phonecalls – we manage the conversations – medical, social, relatives, practical. It runs as it needs to – a strange stream – not a linear pathway – not a torrent of a river, but a small, determined stream, bubbling in a mostly-predictable direction – with sudden bursts of flow and then back to something steady.

I find myself slightly annoyed with the familiarity of it. Having been through something similar with Dad, this feels like de ja vu. The crappiest roller coaster in the park. I hated it first time round. This time it’s no party either, but somehow I have a sense of “ok… this is how this goes…” so somehow even the unpredictable parts are … partially expected. And somehow that saddens me more….That I can feel resigned and stoic. That I’m not raging against the dying of the light in the way I did before.

Emotions are complex beasts.

And in the midst of familiarity, I experience my own change, my own learning, the unfamiliar shifts in my responses. Where once I was laid flat by how I felt– worried and frightened and small and furious – I find I can now stand in the maelstrom a little better. It gets a little wobbly, but I’m definitely more upright…. Where once I ignored that I was completely flattened and attempted to crawl on regardless…I find I can’t do that now… I’m not prepared to do that now…
Whilst I’d still prefer not to be on the floor, I recognise that sometimes sitting there is right. I need to stop. To take stock. To write. To articulate: I feel this. It is this way for me. I’m struggling/ I’m surprisingly ok/ I need X – and then less is pinning me down… and I can stand… and walk outside and breathe.

In all of this, I have a sense of coming face to face with my mortality – turns out I don’t ACTUALLY have super powers. The irony of the upcoming Wonder Woman movie is not lost one me – I’m seeing her everywhere & I so love some of what she represents… and still, I don’t have super powers… This is old news… but it still never ceases to surprise me. My mode of being is one where I can affect change, I can create conversations, take action, have a plan B… in the world I create for myself, I have agency most of the time…
But in a situation where someone you love is dying, you have no agency. You can’t DO a damn thing. Circumstance dictates. Your phone becomes your friend and foe. The ringing brings a second of dread – what news? You are beholden.
These are lessons well learned…and I’m truculently thankful for them.

And in the face of no agency, I still need to feel I can choose. So I choose to continue working, to do good stuff that gives me pleasure and purpose – and to be realistic about what that means. And I choose to go do stuff that feels good – I choose to live, in the face of the alternative choice I think “live” is a good one. I choose to drive 4 hours for a visitation that is rationally pointless, but needed and nurturing. I choose to design team days that enable joy, creativity and thought-provocation and I choose to put stuff around me so I can deliver those well, and still be here and clear – and rest myself a bit after.

I choose who to talk to .. sometimes steering clear of folk who might help…or who might open me up – because I need to be not-open to function for a bit. I choose to lock down a little. I choose easy books and kids movies…I choose not to get political. I choose no sudden moves. I choose to go gently where I can.
You do what you do to get through. To survive and thrive.

I choose these things because I don’t want this to be the only thing. The arresting thing. The defining thing. The sole focus.

It’s the only way I know how to stay more upright.

Picture: Human condition by T Storm Halvorsen

Business Translation & Keeping it Real

deep-listening

This is inspired by a recent conversation with Carol Read, who is doing some extraordinary, breakthough transformation and innovation stuff in the Horizons Team, within NHS England’s Sustainable Improvement Team. I met her through connections with SeaSalt Learning & I think we have started a conversation that could last for many years…. And as we talked, I was reminiscing….

Back in the day when I was an in-house Change Consultant, working with the slightly alchemical purpose of “changing the culture” at the Postal Authority in Jersey, I had an “ah-ha!” moment.

I’d been invited to present to the Board – what has happened, what we are planning to do next, budget stuff (something along the lines of: can you find us some money to do up the staff canteen to show we mean we are going to change and improve the whole business, inside and out? I’m recommending we don’t go down “fur coat no knickers” change route…etc)

I had the standard 10–15 minutes slot, which inevitably rolled over as questions needed to be asked and answered. Part of the Board’s interest was the future, unsurprisingly. In our world, at the time, one of the best ways we could stay competitive was to innovate. We were a small Postal Service, which meant we were, potentially, more agile and able to trial stuff across the operation than larger set-ups in, say, the UK or Germany.

One way we could innovate was to be a test-bed for new delivery methods or tracking tech; we could look at new ways to produce “direct mail” (you may call it Junk mail. 10 years on and I still feel I have committed a sin calling it Junk Mail); we could look at pick-and-pack fulfilment as an income stream (Amazon was in its infancy – we were looking to learn from their model). All these future possibilities…

And I remember going back to my desk, slightly fuzzy-headed with the whirl of future-promises & tech and experiments…. And looking at the list of stuff I knew we needed to get done now. The canteen upgrade suddenly seemed very….unsexy…. but still deeply necessary… and I found it hard to reconcile.

The Board that day were all future and commerce and budgets and business opportunities (as it should be) and I knew this stuff wouldn’t mean a hill of beans to the day-to-day experience of a Postie or a member of the Counter staff until it arrived (typically in bubble-wrap, with a training course & a lot of head scratching) in front of them.

Not because they were daft, or didn’t have ambition or vision. Not because they were lazy or backward or didn’t care about the job – far from it. They were so focussed on doing the job – getting the mail out getting customers served – that what was important was there here-and-now. That was what was real.The lived experience of the place being too hot or cold. The inconvenience of parking. The canteen ruled with an iron fist by the cook who was resolute about the food offerings available.. with chips….

And so my epiphany was this: the need to Translate.

I had (I believed for a while) invented a notion: Business Translation. I saw the language of the Board – all broad brush & future tech & strategy & hypothetical circumstance vs the language of the Operation – specific & tactical, and day-to-day tangible. Separate languages – or perhaps it was just different patois – but the Change work seemed to be about bringing those two closer together. Working closely to articulate and decode “that future stuff” so we could make the here & now actions more purposeful and (dare I say it) aligned.

It all seemed so simple. Just translate stuff.
Mostly, this thought took the team to good places. At the core of our Change methods was: how do we explain this is in different languages? The way it showed up varied. We paid more attention to our internal comms, we cut back on some actions that seemed overly grounded in future flim-flam or in the compromises that come with “this is how we do it round here”. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it burned.

Looking back, much of what we did was “push” and direct and broadcast. If I were to have my time again there, I’d have done a lot more of the pull/listen/adapt the big ideas stuff. I’d still have the fights with marketing about too-tight constraints on internal branding, but I’d probably be a little less strident in my confrontation… I’d listen more.

At the core of the change work, I still believe it’s about translation. Creating better conversations, spaces to think together, action that is communicable… that stuff. Too high falutin’ and it’s ethereal & wispy. Too grounded and it is ludding and static.

I’m grateful to Carol for the conversation – about the dreamy innovative cool stuff & the need to work closely with the here and now to deliver it.

Trust the Process (aka Reflections from an Unconference)

 

2016-02-17 15.59.55

Thanks to Simon Heath . Loving your work as always. x

I’m an advocate of the Unconference format. This is my third go at instigating one within the @LnDConnect community and I reckon I’m just about understanding a little of the magic that happens now.

Events like this cannot happen successfully without people creating, thinking & participating… and if you want folk to create, to reflect, to participate it is important to actively seek and carve out space and time to enable this… then get out of the way and let it breathe.

Events like this don’t happen without a facilitation team who are in service to others and to each other; a team who push experiment; who are relentlessly and genuinely curious about what is happening in their chosen field; who seek to learn themselves. In this instance the Team were (in alphabetical order) Ady Howes, Fiona McBride, Kev Wyke, Martin Couzins, Mike Collins & Sarah Storm... and me.

Here are some of my reflections ( others’ are captured at the bottom of the blog)

Continue reading

The Importance of Thinking Beyond Your Bubble

 

tumblr_static_1

A few days after Paris Terrorist attacks, I’m in the pub with some friends and colleagues and I’m in conversation with someone about the attacks. Her response was very much aligned to mine, a sense of: more love/ less aggression = good response to the situation. Control, vengeance, fear = long-term scary response to the situation. We were blown away by the bravery the courage and the solidarity we saw.

But it’s where the conversation went next that stuck with me and I’m still mulling on. It was when she said everyone on Facebook agreed. Her timeline on Facebook, her Twitter feed, her news alerts all pointed to the incredible, liberal, make-love-not-war sense that she already had. And I realised, mostly mine did too.

But of course that’s bollocks. Not everyone agreed. Not everyone responded as we would like. Other Facebook feeds were doubtless awash with a counter-narrative that would have made me terrified/ want to weep.

Continue reading

Looking At The World With An Eyebrow Up

you-must-never-underestimate-the-power-of-the-eyebrow-quote-1

I got feedback about my face again.

I’ve had it before and I’m mostly fine with it… know it…. try really hard to work with it – the feedback is about the weird frowny thing I do when I’m puzzled or misunderstanding or unsure. I frown. I’m thinking deeply, which shows up as frowning and that expression gets read in lots of different ways.

The frowning thing has followed me throughout my professional life. I’ve been told I’m dissenting, disagreeable, intense, intimidating…. It seems my face tells people stories I’m only one part of. What I have learned, however, is the frowny thing distances me from being alongside people, it signals: stay away. It’s rarely meant. Although I absolutely can be dissenting, disagreeable and intense (I struggle to own intimidating) my preferred place of being is collaborative.

Continue reading

Advice you’d give to someone starting in L&D?‬

IMG_0569

I’m not used to being a “list” blogger…but this is following on from a #LDInsight chat a couple of Fridays ago (follow @LnDConnect on Twitter and #LDInsight on Twitter on Fridays, GMT 8am)
I was on “broadcast mode” that morning, Tweeting a bunch of stuff I would say to new (and existing) Learning and Development types.
I’ve been thinking about it and this is a slightly extended version.

‪1) Stay open to new ideas. Keep challenging your own thinking. Constantly. Others will need that from you‬… If you don’t want to continuously learn, you are in the wrong job.  Keep your thinking fresh & embrace your ability to be critically evaluative of what you hear.

2) Get a good dose of “in the room” experience under your belt. You learn more about yourself/others when working in a confined space with a bunch of semi-strangers than any textbook/course can‬ ever teach you.

Continue reading