Yin and Yang in Change Management: Appreciative Inquiry and the Power of Habit

yin-yangThere are many change management approaches out there. Most focus on weaknesses you need to change; several others out there focus more on things to keep the same and build upon. Most change agents then further target using one approach or another, perhaps based on context, or perhaps as a ‘goto’ tool (you know what they say about goto statements – don’t use them!).

My preference is to balance between these approaches, two I have found really useful are Appreciative Inquiry and the Power of Habit.

I have always tried to help people and organizations find their strengths and build on those. This is the basis of Appreciative Inquiry, something I learned by reading the Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry.  I’m looking forward to reading more on this to be honest as I think it is undervalued as an approach (I almost said under-appreciated…). Being able to identify, really help others identify, the core strengths they have and harness those for the changes they want to see is really powerful.

Here’s an example of how you might use Appreciative Inquiry; have the leadership of an organization (preferably with a sprinkling of lower down in the totem pole) create a KrisMap of where they want to be, personifying what the future organization will become. Then have the people identify the strengths they can leverage towards the resulting characteristics and build action plans to achieve these.  Very powerful, and quite motivating since you are using core strengths.

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 10.02.34 PMYet only applying strengths does not help you eliminate weaknesses.  When talking about change such as what may occur in an Agile Transformation, another approach to look at is the Power of Habit. When habits work against where the organization’s people want to be, then one needs to look at changing the habit to a new one, while keeping the reward the same.

The Habit Loop can be defined as what cues a decision that needs to be made and once similar decisions are made repeatedly following the same formula that provide some form of benefit or pain avoidance (reward), then this will be the preferred decision routine; a craving gets established.  This is regardless of whether we’re talking individual, organizational, or societal. Keeping the reward the same, while changing the habit allows new habits to become more positively reinforced.  This can take some work and I always recommend breaking down the habit into a causal loop showing all the steps being taken.  This helps in identifying leverage points that you can use (strengths in Appreciative Inquiry speak) and possible side loops that could railroad the change; essentially risks to mitigate.

Lastly, remember introducing change, regardless of approach, can be overwhelming. Limit the number of changes you are introducing at any particular point in time.  This gives you a chance to better sense the effect the changes are making and respond accordingly.

For more information, see the latest version of my Taking Flight presentation.

A Short Essay on Using Models – Why Should You Use Them & Why You Should Create Some

EA-7L_Corsair_Line_Drawing I use many models in my thinking, whether they are mine or someone else’s, yet I don’t think of myself as a theorist. I thought it may be helpful to some on why models are so valuable to a pragmatist. Another word for model is framework…

“essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful”

George E.P. Box

This quote is the first thing to remember when you begin using any model; you need to remember that at some point a model will break down and no longer support what you were using it for…  Like a lean start-up idea, create and use models passionately, but stop using them the moment evidence points that they are no longer helpful.  (he nice thing about a model though is that generally this means you have crossed an edge-case where the model doesn’t work any longer, but may still be useful in the long run.  If the model consistently doesn’t work, then perhaps the model has some invalid assumptions.  Exploring these assumptions then may help you refine the model into something that once again works or to find or develop a model that does work under the broader circumstances.

This brings me to the next point – ALWAYS realize models have a set of assumptions.  Explore how the model works under these assumptions.  This helps you understand when the model may be useful and when it may not. With that, why do you need them if you are simply someone (particularly a coach or manager) who needs to help people get things done?

Models help you understand systems; they may not provide a means to achieve an answer, but may simply may provide a means for organizing your thoughts.  The Cynefin model by David Snowden is one of these latter ones – it can help you understand the problem space you are exploring for decision-making. Finding models that can represent systems or at least significant and important portions of a system is mostly useful for helping you organize your thoughts.  The act of thinking through when and how these apply including valid and invalid assumptions about variables, algorithms, or organization (for more pictorial models) really helps you determine on which things to pay attention.  Even if you find the model doesn’t work, the amount of thinking you went through will serve you well.

And I invite you, particularly when you don’t find a model that seems to represent what you need, to try and think through creating one.  Don’t worry about it being perfect, you can always adapt the model after inspecting how it works.  Again, you are using this to organize your thoughts.  Creating a model could be as simple as combining models; Jurgen Appelo’s CHAMPFROGS model about motivation does this.  It appears Jurgen saw gaps, overlaps, and some inconsistencies in representation and blended a new model to make it more clear to him.

It’s also extremely useful to find where different models connect in explaining the same observations (data) differently.  This helps you understand where options may be found and where the thinking on these has many dimensions, which again exposes assumptions about the models.

Going back to the usefulness, one huge benefit for applying or creating a model is stepping back from tactical thinking to a more strategic layer.  This helps in prioritizing based on importance over simple urgency.

People serving as coaches and managers are there to help the people improve the system, you can do this best when you have your own thoughts organized. Models can be an essential tool in selecting and organizing the particular tools and techniques needed to apply.