Rebel Rebel, How Could They Know?

I like to consider myself a rebel. I think like a rebel and I have always admired mavericks who try to make a positive difference. At my desk I have a poster of the Apple ‘Think Different’ quote that begins “here’s to the crazy ones…”,  I have attending the School for Health & Care Radicals (now simply called the School for Change Agents) and I have read ‘Mavericks at Work‘. I spend my days championing change and encouraging people to challenge the status quo. I have been doing this for years.

So imagine my surprise when I completed one of those personality indicator type tests as part of a team building event and it suggested:

  • I tend to steer clear of risks
  • I avoid controversy
  • I fear change
  • I am motivated by stability

Pardon my language but what absolute bollocks!

Maybe I answered the generic questions with a specific agenda in mind. Maybe my responses should not be used to make sweeping generalisations about me. Maybe I didn’t embrace the spirit of being put into a psycho-babble box by someone from HR. Maybe my answers were contrived and I tried to break the system. Or maybe I should read the small print before answering next time.

My problem is that now my team of fellow change professionals (and my boss) may question am I the right person for the job? Am I appropriate to lead a change function? Maybe be the result of my ‘profiling’ shows that I am the ultimate rebel?

If my team want to understand my requirements of the team, they simply need to read this fantastic poster from @RebelsatWork.


But be care not every one approves of rebels…


“Create the space for people to be their best selves” Helen Bevan

I have been have more conversations about change. This time I spoke with the marvelous Helen Bevan of NHS Horizons. We talked about the role of change agents as being one which creates space for others to be their best selves, not their worst selves.

What I really like about this statement is how it draws on the importance of the relationships between both parties and the role of the change agent in creating the conditions for others to thrive. Change agents and leadership have a lot in common. Done wrong both can be disastrous for all involved, but done with compassion, humility and awareness both can be a great experience for everyone.

Like some of my earlier lessons from these change conversations what this particularly highlights to me is the importance of the change person taking responsibility for seeing the world through the eyes of others and for focusing their efforts towards creating conditions for change to succeed. All too often when discussing change people talk about resistance. Perhaps so-called resistance arises because we did not create the right conditions for people to be their best? Maybe we created the conditions in which they became their worst selves?

As change agents it is our responsibility to create the conditions and space to allow people to be their best. And it is our actions that can drive the responses we get. We might not know how to do it right every time but imagine how good it will be when those around you are being their best selves. What a fantastically motivating place that would be.

Star Wars guide to Change Management

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away … there lived a project manager who worked for the Empire. This project manager was in change of the project to build the Death Star but this project manager forgot the importance of change management.

Being a large, command and control organisation the Empire did PRINCE projects. They were big fans of controlled environments and the Empire appreciated the structure, formality and rigour of a PRINCE project approach. They would happily leave being agile to those cheeky rebels with their lack of respect for authority, scruffy clothes and long hair.

Like all big projects the Death Star project was running a bit behind on schedule and somewhat over budget. So along came some consultant chap called Darth Vader who was good mates with the CEO of the Empire (the Emperor) to sort things out.


Now being a consultant project manager with his consultant mind tricks Darth was able to work his magic on the project and get everything back on track. Well almost. You see the Death Star was completed on time and (we assume) on budget only in the rush to do this they ‘de-scoped’ some basic stuff. Darth also managed to upset a few of the project team so they no longer cared about health and safety matters, and to make matters worse he also upset the local residents with the somewhat careless blowing up of Alderaan.

What resulted is quite possibly the most predictable change management cock-up in the galaxy. Having felt the glory of a project completed Darth had totally overlooked the key change management features resulting in a perfect storm which very neatly came back to bite him.

  • Change resistance from the wider population, not happy with the Empire’s scant economic resources being wasted on a big weapon when the Empire Health Service and Schools were short of funding were now even more unhappy over Alderaan-gate.
  • A disgruntled whistle blower from the project team, working extra-long hours in a culture of fear, uses wooki-leaks to make the Death Star plans available to the Rebels. These plans help pinpoint a critical health and safety gap in the Death Star’s infrastructure.
  • Change fatigue within the Death Star crew means that trained military pilots are too tired and/or demotivated to compete with the rag-tag Rebel forces whom they greatly outnumber. So when the tiny Rebel fleet attacks it holds its’ own against the mighty Empire fleet.
  • A radicalised farm-worker (recently befriended/groomed by a hoodie wearing hermit and a criminal gambler-cum-occasional murderer) gets his first chance ever to fly a space ship and is quite bizarrely pretty good at it…The rest you probably know.

The moral of this little story is there is more to success than completion. If you want outcomes, not just outputs, then you need to look beyond project management. Try a little bit of change management: listen to your people, involve them in decisions, don’t annoy the locals and embrace the rebels (they are the ones who change the world).




Five words of guff to avoid in 2017

Certain words or phrases annoy me. Bah humbug and all that. I never want to hear them again. I understand the sentiment behind the words but when they are overused as management drivel then enough is enough. It is time to stop using them and discard these words into bullshit bingo. There will be a punishment for anyone I hear speaking the guff below:

  1. Innovation – everywhere I go someone is innovating this or innovating that. Really? Most innovation appears to be churning out the same old thing only marginally improved. That my friend is not innovation. Real innovation is rare, exciting and sometime life-changing. Let’s not confuse the two.
  2. Engage – these days everyone wants to engage with you. Interestingly some of the synonyms for engage include arrest, capture and seize. I do not want you to arrest, capture or seize me with your project/plan/idea. I want a conversation. I want a two-way process. So lets drop engage and find a better word.
  3. Transformation – like innovation, every change these days is a transformation. Transformation means a complete or marked change in form. Rarely is an organisational project transformational, at best it is reforming what you already do to cost less/be faster/do it better etc. So call it what it is, you ain’t transforming you are just changing it (a bit).
  4. Agile – Saying you are agile, or worse still you are ‘doing agile’, when you wouldn’t know your agile from your elbow is not helpful. Please stop. It is most likely what you are doing is ‘fragile’ (see what I did there?) If you are truly agile you probably don’t go around saying ‘hey everyone look at us, we are agile!
  5. Resources (meaning people) – this is a heinous crime in my book. Resources means stuff e.g. information, materials, money BUT it does not mean people EVER. To refer to a person as a resource is wrong, wrong, wrong. Nuff said.

If in doubt, just watch this excellent Weird AL video.

Some words I would like to see more of: conversation, customer, co-creation, collaboration and change


Imagine the look of surprise on your colleagues’ faces when you add DAFUQ to the next team meeting agenda….

Now if you are ‘down with the kids’ you might think I am being rude. If not you may have no idea what the title of this post is all about. This appropriation of a trendy phrase is a brilliant tool for meetings, particularly those type of meetings where things can often go unspoken. This is a Discussion About Frequently Unasked Questions.

You know the scenario, a project or client meeting where you have been talking about the latest project issue and developing a plan to fix it but you have a sense that not everything is out in the open. Or large forum discussion where several members are being quiet as they try to working through a proposal but the agenda is so tight it is time to move the discussion on to the next topic.

There are many examples of meetings, conversations or simply personal reflections for which a bit of time spent exploring what wasn’t said could save you future embarrassment/time/problems etc.

  • Why did Fred not comment on my proposal?
  • What have we missed?
  • Which users have not contributed to the discussion?
  • What do we need more time to reflect on?

So set aside a few moments for a discussion on the frequently unasked questions, find out what hasn’t been said, and why. Then learn to ask the right questions, every time.

So sort that agenda now – item 4: DAFUQ



“Balance of Constraints and Freedom”

In another change conversation I recently talked to the inspiring, enthusiastic and incredibly knowledgeable Benjamin P Taylor of Red Quadrant.  As well as furnishing me with enough reading to last until 2020 we discussed what makes organisational transformation successful and I asked for the essence of his philosophy to change.

The answer, according to Benjamin, is about finding an appropriate “balance of constraints and freedom”. This means the answer is not command and control with top-down directive change programmes. Neither is the answer adaptive organisations with bottom-up emergent change.

The answer is … it depends.


The challenge is to understand and find the balance that is right for your situation. What are the absolute non-negotiable elements and what is open to participation and co-creation?  What are the necessary, fixed constraints regarding this change and what do those affected by it have the freedom to chose for themselves. Change leaders can often assume far too much of one and very little of the other, whereas in practice there might be more opportunities for freedom than first considered (as neatly summarised in the diagram below):


Make it clear where the boundaries are as a lack of boundaries between constraints and freedom is a recipe for disaster.

So that was lesson number 3 from my change conversations. Coming soon Helen Bevan.





“The people who write the plan, don’t fight the plan”

In another one of my recent conversations with inspiring people I spoke with Jason Little of Lean Change. When asked to sum up his approach to organisational change the following statement was quickly provided: “The people who write the plan don’t fight the plan”

This simple yet elegant phrase neatly captures the critical importance of going beyond communication to achieve participation and co-creation in plans for change. It recognises the value of working together for a common purpose and it deals with the root cause of so-called ‘change resistance’ by actively collaborating.

I love this phrase. I will put it on a poster and hang it on my wall. I might even get a t-shirt printed.

So next time you are busy writing your plan for the next big thing. Stop writing, start talking and create the plan together. Simple.




Change Resistance

In one of my recent conversations with inspiring people the following statement was mentioned:

“The amount of change resistance you experience is directly proportional to your leaderships skills”

I love this statement. This is profound in so many ways. So profound that I needed to share why it is important, what it means to folk doing change and why it is so frequently overlooked.

This simple statement challenges something that many people believe to be true and it moves the onus of responsibility for change resistance away from the people being changed. This suggests that resistance is not a feature of them (the people being changed) which needs to be trained / coached / performance managed away. Instead resistance is a product of you (the one pushing out the change) which means you need to change too. This highlights the importance of collaboration, common purpose, shared learning and the basic premise that the ability to lead is not about telling others what to do it is about co-creating a vision of where we want to be.

Too often change is ‘rolled-out’ or ‘landed’ on people by managers who believe they know best. But without leadership there will be no followers and without leadership there will be resistance. Change managers will do well to remember that resistance is a problem that lies with themselves not with those doing the resisting. So when there is resistance, remember it is you who is not doing something right. They are not the problem.

Thank you to Stephen Parry for this little piece of wisdom (coming soon Jason Little)


Coffee + Conversation = Connection

I have been doing a thing. A very simple thing but in my view a very powerful thing. It all started when I joined the School for Health and Care Radicals earlier this year and joined a randomised coffee trial and from there something wonderful started to happen…

A randomised coffee trial or RCT is just a coffee and a conversation, but it is also so much more.  It is an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with colleagues. It is not simply an excuse for gossip, rather it is an excellent way to build a connections with colleagues and to break down silos.

I realised that in a large organisation my personal network was narrow, so I made a commitment to meet more people and to learn from the experience. I started with a message on our in-house social media site inviting colleagues to ‘join me’ and was pleasantly surprised that some agreed. Then the magic happened. In the space of six months I have had ‘coffee’ with over 30 different colleagues at all levels. I have met some wonderful people, I have discovered some amazing things that people do, I have come to understand the local stories that people tell and I have listened to some of the challenges they face. What I have learned has been uplifting and saddening in equal measure. I have had a true insight into the cultural landscape of my organisation, more so than any consultant could achieve with a few workshops, as I have been able to see my place of work through many new pairs of eyes.

Across all the people I met I found a passion and commitment that was truly inspiring, I found new insights about how the organisation really functions and I realised the importance of making profound connections with those around us. I spoke with senior managers and with frontline staff, I spoke with people from every corner of the organisation and they all really wanted someone to listen to them.

I have now extended the process beyond the organisation boundary and begun inviting bloggers, authors and tweeters who inspire me to meet for a coffee. So far several have agreed and I had a great discussion with Stephen Parry last week discussing adaptive organisations and the importance of organisational climate.

By spending just a few minutes to have a meaningful connection there is so much to learn. There is more to connecting than following someone on social media.For real meaningful connection you need to listen and share. The importance of real connection cannot be under-estimated. Imagine how a customer feels dealing with an organisation that is connected? So much better than being passed around from silo to silo!

I would like to thank everyone I have met, and those I am still to meet, for their time, for their conversation and for connecting. I encourage others to do the same. Talk to someone new, break down silos and learn something new. Make your organisation truly connected.

Coffee + Conversation = Connection