I recently came across some principles for “making large scale change happen“. I think they’re worth sharing.
Read the rest of this entry »
I recently came across some principles for “making large scale change happen“. I think they’re worth sharing.
Read the rest of this entry »
Ask attendees why they go to meetings and their top two responses are to learn and connect. Remember kids that ask a question, and when you answer it they say “why?”
“Why can’t we go outside?”
“Because it’s raining.”
“Well, water’s coming out of the sky.”
So be that annoying kid for a moment and ask: “Why do you want to learn and connect?”
If you play enough rounds of the why game, and ignore the unprofessional but possibly truthful answers — for example: “I’m hoping to get to know an attractive colleague better”; “My boss said I had to and I need a pay raise”; “It’s been too long since I ate fresh Maine lobster” — you will find that the core motivation to go to meetings is to change in some useful way. Change how you see things, and, most important, change how you do things: i.e. behavior change.
So now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s review what Harold Jarche, a veteran educator in the Canadian Armed Forces and now a leading consultant on workplace learning, has to say about the value of public speaking [emphasis added]:
“I do a fair bit of public speaking. But I doubt that much of it has changed anyone’s behaviour. I may have presented some new ideas and sparked some thinking. With a one-hour lecture, you cannot expect more. Yet a lot of our training programs consist of an expert presenting to ‘learners’. Do we really expect behaviour change from this? That would be rather wishful thinking. Learning is a process, not an event.”
“To learn a skill or get better at one you have to practice. Deliberate practice with constructive feedback is the key for long-term success.“
“I conduct face-to-face workshops as well as online ones. For my on-site sessions, usually 1/2 or a full day, I try to cover the basics and the key concepts. We do a few exercises to get people thinking differently. But I don’t expect significant changes in performance as a result of one day together.”
—Harold Jarche, no time, no learning
Like Harold, after years of running meetings and workshops I’ve learned that the likelihood creating permanent valuable behavior change increases as a power of the time spent together. By “together” I don’t mean listening passively to an expert talk. I mean working together as a group to learn new skills and approaches and ways of thinking and practicing with constructive group and expert feedback.
We’ve all heard we should be doing these things to maximize the value of our valuable time together — but very, very few of today’s meetings involve even a smattering of facilitated deliberate practice with constructive feedback.
When you think of all the expensive time we continue to waste doing things we’ve been doing for hundreds of years which we now know don’t work — well, I think tragedy is an accurate description of what routinely passes as a “meeting”.
Change is hard. We now know that social production is the way to maximize learning that leads to significant, valuable, long-term change. At meetings, the instantiations of social production are facilitated workshops run by and/or with content experts. That’s what we should be doing.
Not lectures from experts. Stop wasting valuable time at meetings doing that!
Getting your attendees to do something new at your event can be hard. For example, Seth Godin illustrates the problem:
“Want to go visit a nudist colony?”
“I don’t know, what’s it like?”
“You know, a lot of people not wearing clothes.”
“Show me some pictures, then I’ll know.”
Well, actually, you won’t.
You won’t know what it’s like merely by looking at a picture of a bunch of naked people.
The only way you’ll know what it’s like is if you get seen by a bunch of naked people. The only way to have the experience is to have the experience.
Not by looking at the experience.
By having it.
—Seth Godin, Experiences and your fear of engagement
Now you’re probably not taking your attendees to a nudist colony for the first time — nudist associations, I did say probably. But introducing a new event format where an attendee has to do something different, like interact with other attendees or play a game, will usually evoke uncomfortable feelings for some or many attendees, ranging from mild unease to outright fear.
So how can we encourage attendees to take the risk to try something new?
By having them do something new together.
A caveat — allow attendees to opt out
Whatever we are asking attendees to do, it’s important to always provide an option for individuals to opt out. How to do this depends on the circumstances. For example, running an activity as a concurrent breakout or an add-on to the main program implies that participation is optional. But if the activity is a plenary session, then you should always give an opt-out provision after introducing the activity and before participation starts.
(This doesn’t mean that attendees necessarily get to pick and choose how they will be involved with the activity. For example, when I run The Solution Room I make it clear that those present who choose to attend can do so only as participants and not as observers. If they choose not to participate, I ask them to skip the session.)
Strong scientific research performed over fifty years ago has shown that groups are more likely to accept taking risks than the members individually (e.g. see diffusion of responsibility and level of risk taking in groups for supporting research). Seasoned facilitators know this. Working with groups we can routinely get members to do things collectively that they might baulk at as individuals.
Simply asking a group to do something perceived as risky is not all that’s required, however. Supplying or obtaining agreements on how the group members will work together helps create a safe(r) working environment for risk-taking. In addition, if the group members are mostly strangers to each other, it can be helpful to provide appropriate and meaningful activities for them to get to know each other before moving into new kinds of work. Finally, begin with low-level risk activities and then moving to those perceived as more risky. This will help a group obtain experiences that they would have resisted had I asked them to participate right away.
The power of group process
Change is hard. However, the potential of group process to successfully introduce people to beneficial experiences that might be judged beforehand as scary or risky allows us to create powerful new experiences for attendees at our events. Furthermore, new experiences that incorporate valuable learning and build new personal connections are one of the most powerful ways to make meetings relevant and memorable.
That’s why I love to design and facilitate group work at conferences. I’ll probably never get to facilitate the kind of exposure in Seth Godin’s example (and that’s fine by me). But group work has the power to engage and transform attendee learning and connection in ways that conventional broadcast sessions cannot match. It should be top-of-mind for every event professional who wants to hold engaging and successful meetings.
Is it possible to transform dysfunctional corporate culture like that of United Airlines into the employee engagement of Southwest? Or the indifferent customer service at Kmart into the customer-first approach of Wegmans?
After over thirty years of working with organizations, I think that it’s possible to change organizational culture. But it’s far from easy!
First, many organizations are in denial that there’s any kind of problem with their culture. Getting leadership to think otherwise is an uphill or hopeless battle.
Second, if an organization does get to the point where “we want to change our culture”, there’s rarely an explicit consensus of what we “need” or “might” change.
Third, culture is an emergent property of the interactions between people in the organization, not a linear consequence of deeply buried assumptions to challenge and “treat” in isolation. Prescriptive, formulaic approaches to culture change, are therefore rarely if ever successful.
Finally, organizational culture self-perpetuates through a complex web of rules and relationships whose very interconnectedness resist change. Even if you have a clear idea of what you want to do, there are no uncoupled places to start.
In particular, this excerpt caught my eye:
“Culture is an emergent set of patterns that are formed from the interactions between people. These patterns cannot be reverse engineered. Once they exist you need to change the interactions between people if you want to change the patterns.”
—Chris Corrigan, The myth of managed culture change
This is why process tools like those included in The Power of Participation are so important. Imposed, top-down culture change regimes attempt to force people to do things differently. Chris describes this process as “cruel and violent”. Participation process tools allow people to safely explore interacting in new ways. Organizations can then transform through the resulting emergent changes that such tools facilitate and support.
Image attribution: Animated gif excerpt from “Lawyers in Love” by Jackson Browne
Sometimes, an organization’s culture guarantees that productive change will never occur. Organizational culture unfailingly generates organizational structure that mirrors and maintains the culture.
Want to learn a lot about an organization’s potential for change? Check out the org chart.
How do you facilitate change? In this occasional series, we explore various aspects of facilitating individual and group change.
First, ask yourself the following about every question you ask:
Are you asking questions capable of making change happen?
After the survey is over, can you say to the bosses, “83% of our customer base agrees with answer A, which means we should change our policy on this issue.”
It feels like it’s cheap to add one more question, easy to make the question a bit banal, simple to cover one more issue. But, if the answers aren’t going to make a difference internally, what is the question for?
In other words, if any question you ask doesn’t have the potential to lead you to change anything, leave it out!)
Second, think about Seth’s sobering experience on responding to “Any other comments?” style questions:
Here’s a simple test I do, something that has never once led to action: In the last question of a sloppy, census-style customer service survey, when they ask, “anything else?” I put my name and phone number and ask them to call me. They haven’t, never once, not in more than fifty brand experiences.
Gulp. Would your evaluation process fare any better? As Seth concludes:
If you’re not going to read the answers and take action, why are you asking?
Take a hard look at your conference evaluations. You may be surprised by what you find.
Can we learn from what doesn’t change?
Yes. Daddy’s First Son’s dogs made me do it.
Every day of my annual visits to Anguilla, right after waking up, I’ve taken a 25-minute walk (red line below).
I’ve written about the importance of my morning route.
It’s a feast of the senses. Warm air on my skin. The sweet smell of almond croissants—alarming numbers of calories beckoning, reluctantly resisted—waft from the French bakery. Bass notes thud from several houses, random patterns until I am close enough to hear the melody. I pass trailers cradling gleaming powerboats: Pure Pleasure, Wet Dreamz, Drippin’ Wet, and Royal Seaduction (notice a theme here?) The gentle return uphill gradient calls for a quick dip in our pool. As I cool down I hear the clamor of bananaquits on the veranda railing gobbling up the raw sugar we’ve set out for them.
Connection: A morning walk in Anguilla
But one day last year, with no advance warning, several of Daddy’s First Son’s dogs leaped over the low wall around Son’s house, snarling loudly, and one of them bit my leg (nothing too serious). For the remainder of the stay, I carried a rolled-up newspaper, which I was forced to use, luckily successfully, on a second occasion.
On returning this year, I didn’t want to carry a dog-repelling device, or worry each time passing Son’s house whether today would be the occasion of Attack Number Three.
I reluctantly changed my route.
With no alternative loop available, I chose a destination itinerary: to the tip of Island Harbour’s wharf and back.
No more returning home via a pleasant loop, no more glimpses of Royal Seaduction—and, thankfully, no more fierce, territorial, unrestricted dogs.
The new route is longer, 40 minutes. It includes more main road, where occasionally one faces reckless Anguillian drivers speeding a little faster than pedestrians on the narrow verges like.
But there are compensating vistas: for example, the poignant Eduarlin Barber Shop:
The Anguilla Sea Salt Company/Miniature Golf/Ice Cream Parlor Anchor Complex (how’s that for synergy?!):
Sunny Time Grocery:
And, of course, the beauty of Island Harbour itself.
After a week of these changed morning excursions, I am still discovering new aspects of my path—and this is sure to continue.
But what’s most important is my experience and realization of what has not changed.
Learn from what doesn’t change.
The Anguillians I meet each day, whether walking past or whizzing by in their cars are still the warm, connecting people they’ve always been.
Almost everyone I see on my walk responds in some way. On foot, the standard greeting is mornin’. The people who drive past me raise a hand in greeting, and sometimes hoot the horn. These are not, usually, people I know or have ever met before, and I may never meet them again. And yet, there’s invariably a moment of connection.
Every day, unexpected responses. The speedy truck driver who takes both hands off the wheel, palms facing me to say hi as I walk towards him, the hedge on my right leaving me no place to go if his steering is not true. The beautiful woman who shoots me a dazzling smile as she leaves her driveway for work. Two locals walking in the same direction who, as I pass with a mornin’, say fast walkin’ admiringly to my back. Nuanced respectful nods from respectable Anguillan lady drivers. The grandmother who pivots from conversation to pipe a melodious good morning. Her granddaughter in cream blouse and green skirt uniform, waiting for her ride to school, murmurs hello as I pass. A businesswoman gripping the top of her steering wheel, fingers flying up like rabbit ears when I wave. The minister, waiting for a ride to preach to his church who lifts his hand and our eyes connect. Then I’m past, turning the corner, moving towards the next meeting.
Such simple moments of connection. So little to give, so much received. Growing warmth. A wonderful way to start any morning.
Sometimes, the lessons we learn from what doesn’t change are the most important lessons of all.
Understanding the psychology of motivation can help us create better event outcomes. I’ll illustrate with a story about strange traffic on this very web site…
The other day, I noticed a weird periodic surge of interest in one of my blog posts. Every January 1, page views for this post—but no other—spiked way up and stayed high for 7 – 10 days. Then they went back to normal year-round levels.
It took some head scratching before I finally realized what was going on. The article describes an obscure method for quickly deleting all emails on Apple devices—something Apple didn’t make easy until recently. Apparently, every January thousands of people all over the world stare at the 6,000 emails stuck on their iPhones. They resolve that this is the time they’re finally going to clean them up. So they Google “delete mail”, find my highly ranked post (currently, out of 228 million results I’m #2) click on it and, voila, lots of page views.
Well, lots of page views for a week or so. Then, what I call the New Year’s Resolutions Effect becomes…well, ineffective. People forget about their New Year’s resolutions and go on with their lives.
Why are we so poor at keeping resolutions? While scientific research into the psychology of motivation doesn’t currently offer a definitive explanation, there are some plausible theories. One of them, nicely explained by psychologist Tom Stafford, is proposed by George Ainslie in his book Breakdown of Will (read a forty-page “précis” here).
As Tom puts it:
“…our preferences are unstable and inconsistent, the product of a war between our competing impulses, good and bad, short and long-term. A New Year’s resolution could therefore be seen as an alliance between these competing motivations, and like any alliance, it can easily fall apart.
—Tom Stafford, How to formulate a good resolution
And to make a long story short, he shares this consequence of Ainslie’s theory:
“…if you make a resolution, you should formulate it so that at every point in time it is absolutely clear whether you are sticking to it or not. The clear lines are arbitrary, but they help the truce between our competing interests hold.”
For years, I’ve used this observation to create better event outcomes. Here’s what I do.
If you’ve done a good job, by the close of your event participants will be fired up, ready to implement good ideas they’ve heard and seen. This is prime time for them to make resolutions to make changes in their professional lives. So how can we maximize the likelihood they will make good resolutions—and keep them!
Close to the end of my events I use a personal introspective to give every attendee an opportunity to explore changes they may want to make in their life and work as a result of their experiences during the conference. (For full details of how to hold a personal introspective, see my book The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action.)
At the start of the personal introspective, each attendee writes down (privately) the changes they want to make. Before they do so, I explain a crucial question they will need to answer later in the process: “How will you know when these changes happen?” I give them several relevant examples of vague versus measurable goals and actions, like those below.
It turns out that including the question “How will you know when these changes happen?” and giving relevant examples beforehand is very important. If you don’t, I’ve learned that hardly anyone will come up measurable resolutions that make it crystal clear whether you are succeeding or not.
Even with the directions and support, some people find it very difficult to come up with measurable, time-bound answers. Which is one of the reasons why every personal introspective has a follow-up small group component. There, they can share and get help on their goals. But that’s material for another blog post.
Over the years I’ve received enough feedback about the effectiveness of personal introspectives to know they can be a powerful tool for better event outcomes. As predicted by the psychology of motivation, helping participants make specific, measurable, and time-bound resolutions that are easier to keep is a vital component.
Photo attribution: Flickr user chrish_99
We all have moments when we wish our lives were easier.
We struggle at times with change we would like to see in our lives but can’t seem to make happen.
And we are continually exposed to marketing that promises quick and easy solutions to the problems we are experiencing.
If we want to:
there are tens of thousands of speakers, books, and programs that offer a revolutionary, simple method to cure what ails you.
Just have Jim speak at your event, buy Sarah’s best-selling book, or sign-up for Esmeralda’s online course—and your problems will be over!
Over and over again we delude ourselves that the next miracle diet we try will be the one that “just works”, a new management fad will whip our recalcitrant employees into shape, or the latest event technology will make our attendees happy, wealthy, and wise.
In reality, I’ve found that only a tiny fraction of speakers, books, and programs offer real value. I’ve mentioned a few on this blog over the years, including David Allen’s Getting Things Done, Pomodoro, Eric de Groot & Mike van der Vijver’s Into The Heart of Meetings, and a high percentage of Seth Godin’s thoughts and books.
Another barrier to implementing change is that we overlook the months or years of preparatory work we usually need to do before those aha! change moments we remember the rest of our lives. As Theosophists say: “When the student is ready the teacher will appear” — i.e. the best advice in the world is useless if we are not ready to receive it.
In addition, even when we successfully pan the valuable flecks of gold from mountains of hype, permanently integrating useful desired change invariably requires significant effort.
For example, even after many years of use, my Getting Things Done implementation is imperfect. I flip haphazardly between several trusted systems, depending on the messiness of my desk, my mood, and—for all I know—the phases of the moon. And though, 99% of the time, my email inbox contains well below 100 items, Inbox Zero remains a fantasy, permanently out of reach.
Which leads us to a final trap: the belief that if we don’t implement a personal change perfectly, we haven’t really changed. This is dangerous if we conclude that minor slips mean that we’ve failed to change, and might as well go back to the old way of doing things. Instead, give yourself full credit for the change you’ve fundamentally made, notice when you revert to old patterns, and don’t beat yourself up when it happens (because it nearly always will once in a while.)
Given all these obstacles, it’s a miracle when personal change occurs. And yet, with hard work, it can happen!
Notice when it does. Acknowledge what you’ve done—it was hard!
Photo attribution: Flickr user tracyshaun
Traditional meeting evaluations are unreliable. We obtain them within a few days of the session experience. All such short-term evaluations of a meeting or conference session possess a fatal flaw. They tell you nothing about the long-term effects of the session.
What is the purpose of a meeting? Unless we’re talking about special events, which are about transitory celebrations and entertainment (nothing wrong with these, but not what I’m focusing on here), isn’t the core purpose of a meeting to create useful long-term change? Learning that can be applied productively in the future, connections that last and reward, communities that grow and develop new activities and purpose—these are the key valuable outcomes that meetings and conferences can and should produce.
Unfortunately, humans are poor objective evaluators of the enduring benefits of a session they have just experienced.
Probably the most significant reason for this is that we are far more likely to be influenced by our immediate emotional experience during a session than by the successful delivery of what eventually turn out to be long-term benefits. We like to think of ourselves as driven by rationality, but as Daniel Kahneman eloquently explains in Thinking, Fast and Slow we largely discount the effects that our emotions have on our beliefs. Although information provided by lectures and speeches is mostly forgotten within a week, the short-term emotional glow fanned by a skillful motivational speaker can last long enough for great marks on smile sheets. And paradoxically, the long-term learning that can result from well-designed experiential meeting sessions may not be consciously recognized for some time.
Other reasons why evaluations of conference sessions can be unreliable include quantifiable reason bias (the distortions that occur when attendees are asked to justify their evaluations) and evaluation environment bias (evaluations are influenced by the circumstances in which they’re made). These biases are minimal if we receive evaluations from the environment in which participants can implement hoped-for learning: i.e. back in the world of work. But instead—worried that no one will provide feedback if we wait too long—we supply evaluation sheets to fill out at the session, or push evaluation reminders right away via a conference app.
If we want meeting evaluations to reflect real-world long-term change, we need to use evaluation methods that allow participants to report on their meeting experiences’ long-term effects.
This is hard—much harder than asking for immediate impressions. Once away from the event, memories fade, our professional lives center around our day-to-day work, and we are less open to refocus on the past.
While I haven’t formulated a comprehensive approach to evaluating long-term change related to meetings, I think an effective long-term meeting evaluation should include the following activities:
In my next post I’ll share a concrete example of one way to implement a long-term evaluation that incorporates these components.
Photo attribution: Flickr user jurgenappelo