True Change: How Outsiders on the Inside Get Things Done in Organizations

True Change: How Outsiders on the Inside Get Things Done in Organizations

Janice A. Klein, 1st ed, ISBN 0-7879-7473-0

… changes in organizational strategies usually create micro challenges at the working level. These become opportunities for outsider-insiders throughout the organization to identify gaps between current work practices and changes needed to address the new strategic objectives. … Here is an opportunity for outsider-insiders within each functional group to identify gaps and introduce new ways of working collaboratively to achieve the company’s strategic objectives. (p53)

This made me think about how higher management changes the strategy, and how evangelists adapt to those changes and help their teams adapt to those changes. It also points to the role of top-down change management coupled with bottom-up.

Once the stage is set, outsider-insiders at the grassroots level can more effectively leverage opportunities to pull in change at a tactical (micro) level. They are the ones dealing with daily challenges that provide the opportunity for hem to help others see where cultural assumptions are getting in the way of overcoming those challenges. But few working-level outsider-insiders have the influence or resources that executive outsider-insiders, such as Lou Gerstner, are privileged to possess. Instead, they must find daily, local levers to help educate their peers and managers. Like their senior-level outsider-insiders, they must become teachers helping others to see the value in questioning assumptions. (p63)

Tech evangelists often need to influence without having direct authority. They use their understanding of people’s situations to help people see the value in new tools or ways of doing things.

People who are developing outsiders-insiders need to be continually reminded of the macro challenges facing their organizations. There are many possible outsider perspectives that insiders will be exposed to during their development journey. They need someone… to help steer them to develop perspectives that will be useful internally. Often this role is played by outsider-insiders who have already experienced the journey. Not only do they tend to be more sensitive to the trials and tribulations associated with learning to wear two hats, they already value outsider perspectives. (p111)

It’s easy for tech evangelists to focus on the new technologies or tools, chasing the next new thing. Mentorship by other people who can balance the inside and outside perspectives helps tech evangelists keep perspective.

The need to remain connected is especially keen for insiders who are fully immersed on the outside. The linkages must give distant employees sufficient autonomy to experience and absorb their new cultural environments while making them feel that someone back home still remembers them. If the bonds are too tight, there is a risk that one will not break out of the mental models that block absorption of new ideas or be willing to explore alternative worldviews. Linkages also serve as a conduit for letting home sponsors or peers have a window into what insiders are learning on the outside. Without periodic communications, insiders run a risk of being viewed as just someone who was away “on vacation” and not providing value to the organization. (p111)

This part reminded me of how many consultants are on long-term projects with other companies, and they can feel isolated. We had a lecture about the challenges of manpower outsourcing during my technical internship in Japan, and now that I think of it, I can see the same symptoms in our environment here in Canada.

… Since newcomers want to be accepted by others in their new organization, many attempt to conform to existing norms and avoid questioning existing ways of doing things. At the other extreme are those recruits who believe in the pushcart notion of change and take the opportunity of being an outsider to throw out trial balloons filled with new ideas. Without care, they generate so many waves that it inhibits their ability to be accepted and destroys any chance for building credibility for their outsider concepts. When the latter occurs, potential outsider-insiders begin questioning whether they made a wise employment choice. Many of those who decide to stay find the path of least resistance to be conformity to existing norms and expectations: they become insiders. Organizations must therefore find way to protect and nurture outsider perspectives while helping outsiders to develop the second half of the equation: becoming a valued and respected insider. (p123)

The book goes on to make the point that experienced hires may be the best for introducing change, because they can probably avoid most newbie mistakes and their experience can jump-start their credibility. Hmm.

Here the focus is twofold: (1), quickly plunging new recruits into the culture without stifling their outsider perspectives and (2) jumpstarting the credibility-building process to help new recruits become insiders without negating the value of the outsider perspectives. (p125)

This part made me think of social media. It can (1) introduce new recruits to the culture within an organization, and (2) make it easier for them to establish their credibility by sharing knowledge.

Given the sheer numbers of problems lying around organizations, outsider-insiders need more than luck to ensure that they can put their ideas and skills to work on the most critical gaps. Many outsider-insiders, especially those who reside in the lower echelons of large hierarchies, need assistance in finding their way through their organizations’ mazes. Likewise, managers who face key challenges at both the macro and micro levels need assistance in locating outsider-insiders who have appropriate competencies to help address the challenges. Both need matchmakers: scouts or friends throughout their organizations who can identify and connect outsider-insiders to key problem areas. Developing a critical mass of outsider-insiders is only the first step toward building an army of employees to create the “pong” required to address macro challenges. The final step is getting these outsider-insiders to the right place at the right time so that they can apply their two-hat perspectives to finding the right opportunities to pull in new ideas and ways of doing things. (p147)

Necessity of matchmakers. Must learn how to do this even more effectively…

Interactions with developing outsider-insiders can also present an opportunity for personal reflection. Effective mentoring serves as a dual support system for both mentors and mentees. Developing outsider-insiders act as windows for their mentors, enabling them to see gaps in generational assumptions — another form of cultural blinders. (p181)

Benefits to mentors – opportunities for reflection, questioning their own assumptions.

What I like about this book is that it looks at ways to cultivate an environment of questioning and innovation by preparing insiders to think with outsider perspectives and preparing outsiders to work with inside understanding. It’s not about pushing one particular change through; it’s about helping people learn how to build bridges across the chasm.

Visual book review: Running Lean–Ash Maurya

If you’re starting a technology business – or other kinds of businesses – you’ll find many tips in Ash Maurya’s book, Running Lean. In particular, he provides step-by-step guides for conducting problem interviews, solution interviews, and MVP interviews, all great ways to validating your business assumptions and make sure you’re on the right track.

Here’s a sketchnote that summarizes the key points from the book. Click on the image to see a larger version.

20121228 Book - Running Lean - Ash Maurya

The business model canvas in Running Lean is released under the Creative Commons Sharealike Licence, so this image is as well. Enjoy!

Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works, Second Edition (O’Reilly). (affiliate link) Copyright 2012 Ash Maurya, 978-1-449-30517-8. Recommended for startup founders and early employees.

If you like this, you might want to check out: