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My family’s moving

My sister’s having her next Carnivore Night party at the new house. It
boggles the mind, actually. I’d lived all my life on Bautista Street,
growing up right next to the office. I grew used to always being
presentably dressed (although my fashion sense was really dodgy). I
liked rubbing elbows with people during lunch and dinner. I loved
being around all those books. And of course it was great being able to
just wander over and bring my dad a glass of water or give my mom an
unexpected hug on those inevitable long days…

How will that change now that we have a proper house some distance
away from work?

It’s good for my family, though. It’ll give them that extra time for
relaxation that makes all the difference. From the pictures, it seems
like a beautiful house, too.

I’ll wake up extra early tomorrow – extra extra extra early, maybe
5:00 – so that I can chat with my mom and my friends before I go to
IBM…

On Technorati:

Random Japanese sentence: うまい外交官とは、人に秘密をもらさせる手をいつもつかう人である。 A good diplomat is a person who practises the technique of letting someone else let the cat of the bag.

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.

Leadership going virtual: how we can help managers

…It is important to note that by simply participating, managers transfer their status into the new paradigm; while not participating creates a real discrepancy.

Cecille Demailly, Toward Enterprise 2.0: Making the Change in the Corporation, as cited in Bill Ives’ blog post

Sarah Siegel’s reflections on virtual leadership made me think about the changes that IBM is going through. We’re moving further apart from each other (more remote/mobile workers, more geographically-spread management functions), and at the same time, moving closer to each other through social networking tools. Front-line managers might still see many of their team members face to face, but dotted-line relationships across countries are becoming more and more widespread, and middle managers work in an increasingly virtual world.

Many people struggle to translate management and leadership skills to the virtual world. They feel the loss of contact as we move away from offices and co-located teams, but they don’t have a lot of guidance on what excellent leadership looks like in this new globally-integrated world. There are no recipes or clear best practices in standard management and communication books, in the MBA courses they might have taken, and in the business magazines. Their own managers might also be dealing with the growing pains of the organization.

So some managers participate, and many don’t. The ones who participate are figuring out what works, and they may make mistakes along the way. The ones who don’t participate (out of fear? lack of time? lack of confidence?) might end up finding it even harder to get started, and then people feel confused and isolated because they aren’t getting leadership and direction from the people who are supposed to lead them.

I think managers really do want to help people work more effectively. It’s hard with all the external pressures and the pace of change, tools that are constantly evolving and practices that need to be adapted for the times, and greater challenges from both inside and outside IBM. Communities like the one Sarah Siegel organizes for IBM managers are vital, because managers need to be able to connect with other managers and learn from each other.

There are no clear answers yet. Organizations around the world are still figuring things out. Many of the principles remain the same, but translating them online when you can’t see body language and you can’t make eye contact is difficult for many people.

People need to learn how to not only work around the challenges of a virtual world, but also take advantage of its strengths. And there are strengths. Virtual teams are not just shadows of what we can do face-to-face. Going online brings new capabilities that we can explore.

We need to help managers figure this out. Along the way, we’ll end up helping ourselves and other people, so it’s worth the effort.

I remember growing up and realizing that even though I’m the youngest of three children, my parents were learning all sorts of new things about parenting while raising me. That helped make it easier for me to understand them instead of getting frustrated or upset. It’s like that with managers, too. Managers are learning about working with us just as we’re learning to work with them and with IBM.

So, how can we help? Here are some ways:

  • We can explore and model behaviour. For example, I believe that a culture of knowledge-sharing can make a real difference to IBM. If I experiment with that and model the behaviour, I can help managers and non-managers see what it’s like, what the benefits are, and how to get started. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
  • We can give feedback. I think my manager finds it amusing that I think a lot about what brings out the best in me and I suggest that to him. Managers can’t read minds. Make it easy. If your manager is receptive to the idea, give suggestions and share what you think.
  • We can coach. When the pain of ineffective methods is strong enough to drive change (think about all the frustration over endless reply-to-all conversations), people will look for better ways to do things. Coach people on how to use tools and how to change practices. It’ll take time and they’ll probably get frustrated along the way, but you can help them keep their eyes on the goal (and remember how painful the old ways were!).
  • We can help people see the big picture. Resource actions can sap morale. Impersonal communications can make you feel that the company has drifted from its values. Even if people are afraid, you can work on making sense of the situation, focusing on the positive, and looking for ways to keep moving forward. Vision isn’t just the CEO’s job. What you say and how you act can influence how other people feel about their work and how well they can focus on making things better instead of getting lost in the stress.

There are a lot of individual contributors within IBM. If we see leadership as something everyone in the organization does instead of being limited to those who have the “manager” bit in their Bluepages record, if we remember that leadership competencies are something we can express no matter where we are in the organizational chart and we take responsibility for helping make IBM and the world better, and if we help as many people as we can, we’ll not only get through these growing pains, but we’ll make a company worth working with even more.

Thanks to Rawn Shah for sharing a link to Bill’s blog post through Lotus Connections Profiles, and to Sarah for prompting me to write more about this!

On getting started with collaboration

The hardest part of collaboration is getting started.

In the days and weeks and months before you have a critical mass of people on board, your progress can seem very slow. There’s a lot of resistance. People don’t trust your new initiative. They don’t see the value in changing their behaviour. They don’t see the value in working with you. I see that resistance a lot, whether I’m coaching groups on new collaborative tools or helping organizations learn more about changing business trends.

Building a new collaborative initiative is like making a big snowball. You start with a tiny core. You roll it around and around and around in the snow. Then suddenly it starts picking up new snow easily, and it gets bigger and bigger, and it gets easier and easier to roll. But in the beginning, you have to be very careful about using light snow and smoothening it into the right shape.

Here’s what I’ve learned from coaching individuals, teams, communities, and organizations on collaboration:

Find your champions. Don’t be discouraged if adoption is slow. In any group, you’ll find people who adopt new ideas earlier than others and people who influence other people’s opinions. Find those early adopters and influencers, help them make the most of your new tools, and collect and share their success stories. They will inspire other people to explore, and their examples will help other people learn.

For example, when I help a team learn more about wikis so that they can easily create a web-based knowledge repository, I don’t expect that everyone will contribute to the wiki right away. I look for the one or two people who already organize and share information for the group, and I work with them so that they can use the wiki to organize what they know. If other people find it handy, that’s a bonus. These early adopters and influencers help us convince the rest of the team to read the wiki. Over time, others may be inspired to edit and contribute to the wiki themselves.

Focus on immediate personal benefits. As much as possible, show people why your initiative is worth their time and effort. If you conduct a survey, share the results. If you build a discussion forum, make sure someone is responsible for answering questions. If you want people to read your blog, focus on sharing things of value to them. Help people get value from their participation as quickly as possible.

For example, when people start blogging, they often feel discouraged because they don’t get comments from other readers. That’s the kind of social benefit that comes later, after you’ve developed your network. I help people focus on saving time by using a blog as a professional notebook for remembering solutions and ideas, and I help them see that the practice of writing helps them improve their communication skills. Without that immediate personal benefit, many collective initiatives fizzle out.

Make sure you build compelling personal benefits into your initiative. Personal benefits will motivate people to participate, and then they’ll be able to take advantage of the collective value of their participation.

Fully participate in the conversation. Make it easy to give feedback, and show people that you’re listening. Keep people up to date as you act on their suggestions. Ask questions and reach out.

For example, IBM regularly runs large-scale Jams, which are brainstorming discussions across all of IBM. Seeing decision-makers participate in, respond to, and act on the suggestions raised not only energizes the discussion, but lays the groundwork for even more discussion and action in the future. On the other hand, traditional suggestion boxes that stay locked and unacknowledged can sap morale. As you collaborate with others, show people your progress and the results of that collaboration.

Find your champions, focus on people’s immediate personal benefits, and fully participate in the discussion. Good luck!

New hires, ignorance and innovation

It’s pretty amazing to think that at IBM, people value not only what I know, but what I don’t.

People tell me that the way that I work is very different from the way many people work. I bring a different perspective to work. I connect across business units and geographies. I share what I know. I share what I’m learning. I write a lot about what I’m thinking and how I work. I ask for help. I’m happy. I work with IBM, not just for IBM. I look for the bright side of things. I explain the big picture, and I find the big picture if I need to.

I don’t know that I’m supposed to be an IT specialist just working on code, or an entry-level employee who hesitates to talk to higher-ups. I refuse to learn that a big corporation should be soulless and passionless. Instead of learning cynicism and grudging compliance, I approach our standard paperwork with deliberate empathy and excitement, thinking about the reasons why people created these processes and about how I can use these processes to help me grow. I don’t know any other way to work except to reach out, learn, and share.

Ignorance can be useful. When you don’t have tried-and-tested ways to work, you’re forced to experiment. When you have a different set of perspectives, you can ask questions that test assumptions. When you’re new, you can help more experienced people think.

(And then people go: “Oooh, I hadn’t thought of that…” and then people experiment, and they end up working better too!)

The trick is to stay new; to keep that beginner’s mind, while sharing as much as you can of what you’re learning.

Why do I share this?

There must be many new people out there who are also coming in with a different set of perspectives, and who wonder what they can contribute to their companies. If you’re one of them: you can teach and learn at the same time.

There must be many people who worry about becoming ossified in their habits. If you’re one of them, remember: you’re new to something, too. Find out what you don’t know, and help people learn from that.

Ignorance can lead to interesting ideas! =)

Here’s a short presentation I made on the topic some time ago:

Adjusting

Adjusting to early-morning wake-up times and 45-minute commutes. I’m still a little twitchy – a little sleep deprivation plus a two-hour timeshift earlier than my previous schedule. I can tell by the tic near my eyes, a slight tremble in hands. Handled with tea in the morning and the occasional walk through the rows of cubicles. With a little more sleep and a few more weeks, I’ll settle into a new normal. Fortunately, I still feel mentally there, not fogged, and I get lots of things done. It’s good work, and I’m glad to help make a difference.

It’s a little bit weird typing a full day on a QWERTY layout and then coming home and typing in Dvorak. It takes me a little while to adjust. Typing words, no problem. Keyboard shortcuts, isolated movements – that’s a little harder. I wonder why copying and pasting opens a download window in my browser, and then I catch myself and press the correct keys.

I need to find new rhythms for writing. I can’t blog externally about what I’m working on at the client, but there’s still so much I’m learning and sharing. I could keep posting book notes – there are so many to do! – but a little variety is good.

Today I helped J- edit some of her writing homework for her English classes. The essay was easy: trim unnecessary words, make tenses consistent, clarify wording… She wasn’t sure where she was going with her fiction chapter, the first in a new story. I read through pages of dialogue that went back-and-forth without much progress. I pulled out one idea and suggested starting the chapter with something like this:

My dad isn’t my real dad.

My best friend hates me.

And my shadow just told me to hit a chicken.

“That’s awesome!” she said. Now she’s off and writing, curious about what happens next in the story. I’m curious too.

Adjusting. Tightening things up, dropping the unnecessary, getting the hang of a different flow. We’ll see what happens. =)