We’ve discussed “sound and current data.” Now we need to get a handle on gathering that sound and current data.
The “first and always intervention” is closely related to the discipline of sound and current data. Our assumptions and interpretations about what’s going on and what’s needed are generally sufficient when things are normal and we wish them to continue that way. However, when planning and implementing a change process, sound and current data are needed to make decisions about change strategies and tactics that will lead to desired results.
Gathering sound and current data starts with the initial client meeting. Clients are usually forthcoming about their view of the problem and the solution they wish us to carry out. This initial data-gathering process gives us crucial sound and current data about the client who must lead the project and, accordingly, is a significant intervention. The data gathered during this interview can significantly shift the client’s perspective and provide the added value needed to positively influence the client toward a more systemic perspective. I find myself frequently asking the client questions like, “How do you know that?” and “How might you find out?” The client and I both learn through effective data gathering!
Data gathering during the initial interview is an important intervention for both the client and the practitioner. However, it is only focused on the client’s point of view, which is more likely than not to be the result of assumptions and interpretations of his or her system. Accordingly, the prudent change agent insists on a more systemic data-gathering process during which the practitioner interviews the key stakeholders who need to be involved in the proposed project. These interviews serve several purposes:
a. to develop a more systemic set of sound and current data that often may be quite different than that of the client’s.
b. to galvanize organizational energy in preparation for “something happening.”
c. to provide some initial empowerment coaching for those from whom data is gathered.
d. to strengthen the quality of the relationship between the practitioners and the stakeholders who were interviewed.
To begin these interviews, ask the following core questions
a. What’s working in the targeted system?
b. What needs improvement within the system?
c. What has been done to attempt improvement?
d. What barriers occurred during such attempts?
e. What were the reactions to the change goals and reason for it?
The information being sought by asking these particular questions is to identify the general themes and patterns extant about the state of the system and its readiness for a particular change goal. This data will help the practitioner develop the strategic and tactical plan for the change project and identify needs of the system, which could act as resistance to the change, so they can be considered, planned for and engaged.
Data gathering is not something that should be done only one or two times during a planned change process. It is continual as sound and current data is needed to ascertain the impact of other interventions and to know what’s changed since data was last collected and reviewed. Sound and current data is very fluid as systems are in constant flux, not just from our intended changes but also changes that are simply a part of human life. Thinking that things are now the way you left them is to fall prey to the inaccuracy that too often comes with such assumptions. Keep in mind, as well, that data gathering itself has an impact—raising expectations and/or triggering thought that might not have occurred otherwise—and thus, it is one of our critical interventions.
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Most organizational development literature has some version of the stages or steps of planned change. They go something like: contracting, data gathering, intervention, evaluation, and disengagement. I have problems with this framework. Each stage is an intervention in itself, yet intervention properly comes after data gathering. In addition, evaluation includes data gathering along with some analysis. Further, in real life, the sequence suggested in most literature does not account for various stages overlapping. For example, data gathering often leads to re-contracting – as might any other intervention. This makes the framework both confusing and unwieldy.
I have designed an alternative approach I am calling “Critical Interventions.” This approach acknowledges that all of the stages are interventions. It does not suggest any particular ordering, although the order in which they are offered may have some value.
From the perspective of applied behavioral science, an intervention is an action within a human system that is intended to move that system toward some specific change goal. In organization development terms, our interventions are designed to move the support for a specified goal toward critical mass http://tinyurl.com/supportsystems through engendering collaboration dynamics such as mutual understanding and the willingness to learn from differences. http://tinyurl.com/learningfromdifferences
Seven Critical Interventions
• Data Gathering
• Creating Possibility
• Contracting for Collaboration
• Event Planning and Implementation
• Feedback as a Learning Process
• Clear Consequences
Stayed tuned next week for our explication of “Data Gathering” and what makes it the very first of the “Seven Critical Interventions!”
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Traditional change management approaches often call for identifying the person or people who are not in accord with a change project and fixing or replacing them with people who are. This process typically leads to a series of finite, win/lose power struggles that change little and waste much systemic energy on non-productive activities. Noting that win/lose processes will, in the long run, always generate lose/lose results, an alternative approach would be to focus on infinite, win/win change goals and strategies.
An important aspect of playing infinitely is to focus on changing the quality of relationships within the target system rather than trying to change or fix members who do not seem in accord with a proposed change. This is directly related to the processes of conflict management and team-building mentioned in previous sections.
Focusing on changing the quality of relationships rather than trying to fix or change people or groups of people minimizes the need for power struggles. When open, collaborative decision-making processes are used, most individual needs can be met while focusing on developing strategies and tactics aimed at the change goals.
I remember a situation in a high-value, light manufacturing company. The head of manufacturing was upset with the head of sales for bringing in an order that she couldn’t fulfill by the date promised with the personnel to which she was limited by a budget crunch. The sales manager insisted that that was what the customer wanted and that he was under pressure to increase revenue flow. Their boss, the general manager, gave me the job of helping them resolve their issues. I asked the boss if either of the constraints could be eased. He said, “No,” very politely, but firmly. I interviewed both parties to help get them into a listening mode by my listening extensively to them, so that both were feeling heard before meeting together. It took awhile for them to get past their self-righteousness and figure out that if they worked together they could short-circuit the issues they had with each other. The detail of “working together” was interesting: They decided to do monthly forecasts together and that a manufacturing representative would go along on customer meetings involving potential sales over a certain amount. Yes, it took three hours including lunch to work all of this out, and we created a process through which both could win in addition to the organization winning! With persistence, patience, and enough passion, infinite solutions are most always available!
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The Disciplines of Managing Change in Human Systems
On behalf of creating effectiveness within each of the prescribed stages of change, the eight disciplines are important. They are: Conscious Use of Self, Systems Thinking, Sound and Current Data, Feedback, Infinite Power, Learning from Differences, Empowerment, and Support Systems. These disciplines directly support the notion of the empowerability of human systems and the people that live and work within them. Accordingly, they also support the use of collaborative strategies and tactics aimed at open communication and consensual decision-making. We call them disciplines because of their necessity. Bobby McFerrin in his tune “Discipline” chanted “for those who have been trained by it, no discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful.” We take that to reflect our experience that not being disciplined seems pleasant in it’s easiness, but painful when we don’t get the results we want.
Conscious use of self: #1 of Eight Disciplines for Planned Change
The primary tool that anyone wishing to manage change in a human system uses is the configuration of intellectual, emotional, and physical energies that we call our Self. Our Self includes our personality, our various abilities (particularly our ability to learn) and our idiosyncrasies. Most of us have only begun to recognize and develop full command of these energies. Most of us respond to many situations automatically. These automatic or habitual responses are the result of over-learning. Over-learning is the application of an appropriate learning from past experiences and applying it too broadly to every other set of similar situations. Over-learning gives us an automatic approach to life which works much of the time. Who need to be conscious of every step we take and every word we say? However, when we want to manage change in some human system to which we belong those automatic behaviors too often don’t work.
In the same vein, the way we define parts of ourselves as OK and other parts as not OK is another hindrance to effective use of self. Too often we deny the large portions of ourselves that we define as not OK. We want to see ourselves as male, not female or female, not male. We want to see ourselves as ‘nice,‘ never as ‘mean.’ In this manner, we deprive ourselves of the inherent flexibility that comes with the multiple aspects and attitudes that make up our fundamental integrity. We often judge ourselves harshly in ways that prevent us from using the totality of ourselves that could be needed to get the changes we want.
In the processes of effective change management we need all the personal flexibility we can muster. How we use ourselves in one situation with one person is not likely to be very effective in another, though similar situation. A part of that flexibility is the ability to notice when we might be mistaking our assumptions for real data. This is a pervasive pitfall in the world and in managing change in human systems. (More on this issue in a later blog in this series.)
Effective, Conscious Use of Self calls for learning how to be aware of and choose behavior that will be effective in the present situation. As we move with practice toward mastery, we will be more and more able to behave in such a manner that the systems within which we wish to manage change will respond in ways consonant with our goals and intention. Such mastery can be difficult and at times fraught with frustration. To help with those situations check out my next blog “Conscious use of self and Choice Points!” Learn to Make a Difference in the World of People, Teams, and Organizations http://bit.ly/zFCNfv
I’ve had this concept for awhile. And, it came back to me in full force while talking with Aubrey over dinner this evening. In the process of managing change, a sense possibility must be discovered, offered, or established first. I will add this is the “Critical Interventions” article.