“Why is your proposed change so profound?”

knot-systemMy recent serialised post titled “Your Money or your Life!” proposed that every ‘large corporate’* should make a meaningful change…that would be for the good of all.

Wow, that would be great!

* Where ‘large corporate’ is short form for ‘controlled by free-floating short-term thinking shareholders’.

I got thinking (as is often the case after pressing the ‘publish’ button) about readers thinking:

“Erm, okay – interesting perspective –  but why is the suggested change supposedly so profound?”

…and this caused me to question whether I had got the ‘this is a potential game changer!’ point across.

Note: What follows is relevant when considering ANY proposed change, not just the contents of my last post!

And so to a ‘systems thinking’ explanation:

First, a definition:

“A system is an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organised in a way that achieves something.

If you look at that definition closely for a minute, you can see that a system must consist of three kinds of things: elements, interconnections, and a function or purpose1.” (Donella Meadows)

Going back to an organisation (yours, mine,…wherever) as a system to ponder:

  • The Elements are pretty obvious – they include the people, the products and services offered, the physical buildings and resources, lots of intangible pieces (distinct departments, teams within) and so on…;

  • The Interconnections are the “the relationships that hold the elements together” e. g. the physical flows of work, the business policies and guidelines, external laws and regulations, the communications (including the gossip!), and flows of information (signals that go to decision or action points…which may or may not trigger reactions);

  • The Purpose of a system, whilst essential, is often hard to see (even if you think you know what it is!):

 “The best way to deduce the system’s purpose is to watch for a while to see how the system behaves…Purposes are deduced from behaviour, not from rhetoric or stated goals.”

 What you see may be very different to what you are told.

…and so, if you want to change an organisational system, presumably through a desire to improve (and even transform) it, then you have three “kinds of things” to play with.

Taking each ‘kind of thing’ in turn:

Elements

 “Changing elements usually has the least effect on the system.”

Using rugby and the All Blacks to illustrate the point: The coaches can change one or two players but, if they keep everything else the same, then not too much will change.

Now, sure, some elements may be very important (perhaps the introduction of a brilliant goal kicker) but, even then, the worth of such a change is hugely constrained by the rest of the system.

You might change ALL the elements (e.g. players) but if you keep the interconnections (such as the game plan, methods of communication, information sharing, the environment of trust and respect…) and purpose the same, then very little change may occur.

dan-and-richieA positive example of this phenomenon: The All Blacks won the rugby World Cup in 2011 and 2015, making them the first team ever to achieve ‘back-to-back’ rugby World Cups.  They did this with a core of extremely influential world-class players3who then promptly retired!

The world rugby media wondered how the All Blacks would rebuild, given the apparently gaping holes these players would leave. Many a pundit envisioned dark days ahead.

And yet a few weeks ago (on 22nd Oct 2016), despite introducing many new players, the All Blacks broke the world record for the number of consecutive international games won against ‘Tier one’ rugby nations (18 games). In short, rather than going backwards, they have ‘kicked on’ to even higher levels.

Their purpose and interconnections have clearly been shown to be stronger than the elements (e.g. players).

To the world of work: and organisational ‘restructures’. If you re-jig your hierarchical structure, changing the departments and faces within, but keep the methods of interconnection (the management system) and the underlying purpose the same (whether profit or political ideology), then not much has really changed.

“A system generally goes on being itself, changing only slowly if at all, even with complete substitution of its elements – as long as its interconnections and purposes remain intact.”

Further, you may have convinced yourself that your problems were ‘because of’ individuals…but consider that you may have ‘cut out’ the symptom and not the cause. If you don’t learn from this then you can expect another (costly) restructure in maybe 12 months time…and again…and again.

Interconnections

 “Changing interconnections in a system can change it dramatically.”

chris-robshawSo, staying with rugby, let’s move to the English national team.  In contrast to the All Blacks, they have had two terrible World Cups.

In 2011: they travelled to New Zealand and were awful (I know – I watched them!) They were heavily criticised for their attitude, and off field behaviour – they acted as if they were on an all expenses paid holiday…and, in the end, they were! The coach (Martin Johnson) resigned.

In 2015: they had home advantage – hopes were high. The whole of England was supporting them…but they exited the competition at the pool stages – the first time in their history. The coach (Stuart Lancaster) resigned.

So how has 2016 gone? Well, they’ve played 9, won 9…which includes:

  • achieving the Grand Slam (which they haven’t done for 13 years);
  • a 3-0 tour whitewash of Australia (a rare achievement); and
  • rising to be ranked 2nd in the World (from 8th)…just behind those mighty All Blacks.

So what’s changed? Well, England appointed a new manager (Eddie Jones)…but he has stuck with the core of previous players (those elements).

Instead of wholesale changing of the elements, he’s changed the interconnections – how they work together – resulting in players that had become labelled as ‘bad boys’, ‘past their best’ and ‘donkeys’4 being reborn, putting in controlled, consistent and herculean performances.

We don’t yet know whether the change will be long lasting…but it has most definitely been profound.

Back to the world of work: Perhaps the best known modern(ish) example of keeping the elements but changing the interconnections has to be NUMMI:

General Motor’s Fremont car plant was one of the worst performing plants in the whole industry, with high costs, low quality and terrible worker relations. GM closed the plant in 1982.

Toyota, wanting to start production in America, struck a joint-venture agreement with GM and the Fremont plant reopened as NUMMI in 1985. They rehired 85% of the original workforce (who still belonged to the Union – considered by GM as a serious problem). After taking 100s of the workers over to Japan to experience totally different thinking (involving a high degree of meaningful worker interacting), these learning’s were put into practise and the factory went on to produce the lowest cost, highest quality cars within its first year!

“Toyota took a bunch of [apparent] F Players, retrained them, put them into a great system, and magically they became superstars.” (Pfeffer and Sutton)

In short: Changing from a command-and-control management system to one that better understands systems and people will be dramatic.

Purpose

“A change in purpose changes a system profoundly, even if every element and interconnection remains the same.”

So, to switch from rugby to football: There’s an annual knockout competition in English Football, known as ‘The FA cup’. First played in 1871, it is the oldest football competition in the world. There is something rather magical about it because, given that it is open to any eligible club down to level 10 of the English football league system, it allows amateur minnows to mix it with the millionaire mega-stars…and, every now and then, create an upset – a minnow becomes a giant killer!

I searched for a game between a low-league minnow and a 1st division giant…and came up with Wrexham vs. Arsenal back in 19925. Both appeared to have had the same purpose – to win the game – but I suggest that their true purposes were rather different (and not so obviously stated).

Arsenal’s stars were probably trying to keep themselves injury free, to focus on other important matters – win their league (the 1st division) and perhaps get into their respective national sides (it was European Cup year)….and maybe avoid the embarrassment of defeat.

wrexham

In contrast, every man in the Wrexham team was aiming to become a legend!

Wrexham won 2 – 1. The crowd went nuts!

But here’s an interesting point: Wrexham, the giant killing minnow, went back to their low-league competition the following weekend and drew 0 – 0 at home with Maidstone United. Maidstone who? Exactly! The same players and staff, same coaching system, same methods of communications…different purpose!

This example, I hope, serves to illustrate the point that a (true) change in purpose will be profound, even whilst retaining the same elements and interconnections.

To the world of work: Even better than a transient change in purpose (like Wrexham’s), would be a permanent one!

…and so we finally come to that ‘profound point’ from my recent serialised post: long-term profit sharing. Bringing ‘Live Money’ into an organisation permanently changes its purpose, for the good of all…which would lead to experimentation with new interconnections…which would reinvigorate the elements (or at least naturally sort through those that fit vs. those that wish to pursue something else).

All in all – a profound change to the system. It would be…well…‘Transformed’.

To close: So, what if your ‘leader‘ changes?

Let’s say your organisation hires a new CEO – an element, but a central one. Everyone’s chattering about this ‘big change’…but will it change much?

The answer is “it depends”.

It will depend upon whether the leader understands systems and people (through education and experience, or perhaps instinctively)…because:

  • if the new leader goes on to change interconnections and, even better, the (actual) purpose then transformational change will likely occur; but
  • if that leaders attempts change merely through changing the elements (new people, new departments, a new IT system, some new products and brands….) then not much will actually change.

Changing the interconnections relates to the management system.

Changing the purpose relates to why the organisation exists, and for whom.

…and I hope I don’t need to say that a fancy new ‘purpose statement’ doesn’t, of itself, change a thing!

Footnote:

1. The word ‘Function’ is generally used for non-human systems and ‘Purpose’ for human systems.

2. Quote source: All quotes (unless otherwise stated) are taken from the excellent book ‘Thinking in Systems’ written by the late Donella Meadows (a giant to add at some point).

3. All Black players that retired after 2015 rugby World Cup:

  • Richie McCaw (148 caps): Regarded by many as the greatest ever rugby player, Most capped rugby player of all time, 3x World Rugby Player of the Year….and his accolades go on and on;
  • Dan Carter (112 caps): Regarded by many as the greatest ever no. 10 (fly half) player, Highest international test points scorer of all time (1,598), 3x World Rugby Player of the Year…and on and on;
  • Ma’a Nonu (103 caps) and Conrad Smith (94 caps). Most successful mid-field pairing;
  • …and other great players: Kevin Mealamu (132 caps), Tony Woodcock (118 caps)

4. England players: If you are a rugby fan then I’m referring to the likes of Dylan Hartley (‘bad boy’), Chris Robshaw (‘has been’) and James Haskell (‘donkey’). Sorry chaps…but this is what you had seemingly become!

5. FA Cup Giant Killing Context: Wrexham came last in League 4 the year before (i.e. came 92nd out of all the 92 league 1 – 4 clubs). At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Arsenal won League 1 (i.e. came 1st out of these 92 clubs).

6. Explaining the main post Image: The system is made up of ropes (elements), knots (interconnections) and purpose (what it is intended to achieve)….which may be to look pretty or to hold a heavy load.

7. Clarification: This post is NOT saying that purpose is the only lever you should focus on. It is merely explaining the likely impact of working on each type of lever. We should be working on improving all three ‘kinds of things’ and, being a system, they are all related!

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….because I wanted to!

nz mapSo something really important happened to me yesterday evening – I became a Kiwi!

“What’s so good about that?” you might ask…

The Back-story:

I was born and raised in the UK which (for the avoidance of doubt) I still love.

However, I have happily been a permanent resident of New Zealand for 8 awesome years. There was no pressure on me to go further and apply for citizenship. Indeed, to do so would require a bit of effort on my part and some money to pay the Ministry of Internal Affair’s administration costs.

The Citizenship Ceremony:

There were about 180 candidates for citizenship, representing over 30 different countries.

The ceremony kicked off with an excellent performance from a Kapa Haka1 group.

The Mayor of our city, ably assisted by a linguistically impressive2 MC, presided over the ceremony and did a brilliant job of welcoming us, making us feel at ease, running a tight ship for oaths/ affirmations, certificates, photos (and trees!3) and finally congratulating us.

The National Anthem was sung.

But, just before the National Anthem, we watched a short video….

The insight:

…and within that video was a welcome from the Hon. Peter Dunne, Minister of Internal Affairs.

He nicely put into words that, as New Zealand residents, we are already entitled:

  • to stay indefinitely, to work and to study;
  • to healthcare, education and social security, as citizens are; and
  • to vote

and that this is not the case for all countries around the world4.

…and as such, we’re not becoming citizens in exchange for such rights – it isn’t for personal gain (in a ‘do this to get that’ kinda way), it is because we want to!

Indeed, some people will be choosing to surrender citizenship5 from their country of birth.

Now, I hadn’t formalised it as such…but, yes, Mr Dunne had ‘hit the nail on the head’. There was no need to become a citizen, but we feel part of this community and want to belong to it.

Now, for those of you reading the above thinking “that’s very nice and all that…but you usually write about organisations – what’s gone wrong this time?”…here goes:

The analogy:

Yep, you can see where this is going: Many an organisation uses the ‘do this to get that’ logic on its people throughout its management system:

  • meet these targets to get this reward;
  • put yourself forward to win this competition;
  • act in this way to win this quarterly/ annual award
  • search out, and apply for external awards to gain hierarchical kudos
  • ….etc.

In fact, they do so as if this is all rather obvious, and the only way to go about running an organisation.

But all of these things are extrinsic. They aren’t because you want to, they are because you want the prize available for complying with their wishes. This reminds me of a very early post I wrote titled ‘Don’t feed the animals’ which sets out and explains the point.

The reverse logic is to provide the people with what they need to thrive (with no strings attached)…and they will blossom…and they will want to belong. This is all about the environment:

…which will create:

People will come to love such an organisation, will want to belong, and will want to give of their all. How many organisations can honestly claim that?!

For you skeptics out there, such a transformation is:

  • possible, desirable, worthwhile and (as a side effect) profitable; and yet
  • impossible without a fundamental change in thinking.

Where would you choose to work (or live)?

Post script:

I texted a very good friend just after the ceremony: “All Blacks supporter now!”

ABs vs LionsHis response was:“All Blacks over the Lions?”

Damn, I hadn’t thought about next year’s Test series. This might take a little bit of time and emotional baggage to work through!

Footnotes:

1. Kapa haka is the term for Māori performing arts and literally means to form a line (kapa) and dance (haka).

2. 30+ different countries results in amazingly different names to be read out!

3. Every family grouping is presented with a native ‘baby tree’, to plant at home. We’ve got a spot in our garden already sorted.

4. Where this is a particular bone of contention for Kiwis living in Australia.

5. Some countries forbid multiple citizenships, and therefore require you to renounce your citizenship if you want to change to another.

6. You may not think they are random…but if they don’t take proper account of variation, then they are.

Being an All Black

hakaSo a few people have sent me the link to the recent Steve Hansen interview* (20 mins. long) – thanks for that, it’s very good and worth writing this post about.

* For those of you who live on a different planet – Hansen is the current coach of the All Blacks (that’s a rugby team!) and is currently at the 2015 World Cup in England.

Listening to the interview shows how truly special the All Blacks environment is. I pick out below what I think are key things said that are applicable to any/ every organisation that wants to continually strive towards its true purpose:

(Quotes are in blue text with my thoughts following in black)


Interviewer’s Question: “…What defines Steve Hansen’s All Blacks?”

Steve Hansen’s Response: “It’s not Steve Hansen’s team…it’s about a collective group who are trying to do something [purposeful]….we have to set ourselves some lofty goals, and some people may say that’s arrogant, but I think if you want to achieve something in life, you’ve got to set big goals…”

This links to the setting of a clear challenge* such that everyone involved understands and wants to drive towards it, not for the leader but for themselves.

As such, this challenge has to be:

  • Meaningful: about making the world a better place in some way;
  • Tangible: easily relevant to everyone who is to be involved, not distant and abstract; and
  • Real: not a fake side-act for something else (see POSIWID).

*The challenge is not about a solution – you should know where you want to go but not impose how you believe you are going to get there (See How to have a successful journey).


Interviewer’s Question: “Is that one of the defining factors – the fact that it is a collective?”

SH Response: “…for this team to really play well, we need to be as one and the team has to be greater than the individual…”

This fits perfectly with the idea of systems thinking. The All blacks are a system made up of component parts – 15 individuals on the pitch, 7 on the bench, more in reserve, coaches and back room staff.

They want, and need, to optimise the system, not its component parts.

Every player will want to be picked in the 1st 15…but will work together even if they are not. If Dan Carter isn’t picked for a game, you’d still expect him to use all his 100+ caps of experience to help his replacement…and he most certainly will – and if you doubt it, look for the water boy!


Interviewer’s Question: “You’ve talked about humility and..devolving leadership…as the coach…you have to give up some control. Is that right?”

SH Response: “Well, it might seem like you have to give up control, but, really, it’s not about control. It’s about everybody going in the same direction, trying to achieve the same thing, so you’re not having to control anyone to do that. They want to be alongside you. And in some cases, you want them to be in front of you because they’re the people that are out there playing, and they’ve got to make the big decisions in the moment in the contest. And all we [the coaches] are is here to facilitate an environment…that is conducive to them being able to play.

This echoes everything posted on this blog about the important thing being the environment. We need to move away from a ‘command and control’ logic (and all its management instruments of torture) and replace it with a realisation that Purpose + Environment = the starting point!

Then, and only then, will the whole team truly work together for the good of all.

Purpose is necessary. Environment is necessary. Neither, on its own, is sufficient.

The other point is that it is about the people ‘at the Gemba’ making decisions. The coach’s job is just to provide the direction and support to enable this.


Interviewer’s Question: “How do you, Steve Hansen, see…get the feel for what a player needs?”

SH Response: “Well, once we’ve talked about the team coming first, the team’s made up of a whole lot of individuals, so you try and do your best to get to understand the individuals and what makes him or her tick…You’re really looking at them, ‘how am I going to get the best out of that person?’ along with the other guys that are helping you do that. It’s about watching them every day…you just know after a while when you’re rubbing shoulders with them all the time what individuals need and what they don’t, and I guess that’s the art of coaching.”

This echoes what was written in People are people so why should it be. We are all different, we have different strengths and weaknesses – the task is to develop each and every one of us, not judge and compare us!


Interviewer’s Question: “…you spend a lot of the time motivating the team…”

SH Response: “Interestingly enough I don’t think my job is to motivate the team. My job is to create an environment where motivated athletes can perform…”

I think Hansen might have read a bit of McGregor and Herzberg

He understands that I can’t motive you…but I can strive to provide an environment that has the best chance of you getting the best out of yourself for the good of you and your team.

I very much doubt that Hansen uses the management tools of cascaded personal objectives, individual targets, judgement and extrinsic rewards. Can you imagine him taking, say, SBW (that’s one of the players) to one side and saying “Right Sonny, your target this game is 6 offloads, 4 crunching tackles and 2 tries and if you do it, I’ll give you a sports car”. This would destroy the collaboration that he wants from his collective. It would make it about the individual rather than the team. It would make it about hitting the target and then doing no more.

Who’s had a son or daughter playing sport and seen what happens when a parent tries to motivate their child with, say, money for scoring a try (or goal or…). It is a coach’s worst nightmare! How on earth can they persuade this individual to get that ‘dangling carrot’ out of their mind to pass that ball?!


Interviewer’s Question: “Everyone wants to get better. I mean, how do you actually do it?”

SH Response: “I think it’s about living it every day. You create an environment where you’re living every day trying to get better and you’re not accepting that what you’re doing today’s good enough. And I think if you keep pushing that and everyone’s bought in to it first and foremost and then you keep pushing it and driving it, it’s achievable. But the minute you decide that ‘Okay, we’ve arrived’ someone’s just going to draw [go] straight past you…”

He understands that it is a never-ending journey and the moment you think ‘aren’t we just great!’ then you are in trouble.

It’s also about looking at yourselves and what you are doing rather than trying to be like somebody else (see Benchmarking – worse than cheating)


…and finally:

Whether they achieve their lofty goal (retaining the world cup) or not, I think you’d agree that they appear to be going about it in a fantastic way.

When I look back at Steve Hansen’s interview I think ‘he really gets it’. I also believe him – I don’t think he is just saying it…and, as such, I would follow him (I just need to get good at rugby now!!!).

If you didn’t know differently, you could easily think that Hansen was a student of Deming and Ohno …and who knows, he might be!