Change is Challenging

We’re making a very simple change at work; merging our personnel directory site with our enterprise social network.

What does this mean for the user? They’ll be able to search for people using a wider variety of search terms, by putting them all in one search box. The underlying data source is the same so the search results should be the close to the same.

What does this mean for the project team? Solving a myriad of technical issues – from increasing the capacity of the social network platform, to making sure both phone and mobile numbers display. And we’ve encountered a couple of issues that will have to be solved some other way – as they involve tasks that are not related to a social network.

The change will go into effect at the end of this month, given that the directory was the most visited site we started communicating about it back in September. First with key stakeholders and then more widely. The reactions have been interesting – ranging from “yes it’s better” through to “I’ll get used to it” through to “it will be much worse I’ll never find everything”.

We’ve just taken on an extra person as a conversation manager temporarily to help with the increase in questions. When I talked to her about the role I mentioned that some of the people asking questions might be grumpy. She laughed “grumpy people are my specialty”. She may turn out to be our secret weapon in helping people adapt to this change.

It’s a good reminder that in any IT project the challenges are not just technical. Change affects people, and it’s a challenge to help them adapt.

Image change

Keystone Habits

The Power of Habit

Charles Duhigg

My mother was right; making your bed every day is a good idea. I think her reasoning was to do with keeping the house tidy, but it turns out there’s a better reason to do it.

Making your bed is a “keystone habit”, the sort of habit which will spill over into other good habits.

Many of the activities we do each day are governed by habit, it enables our brain to go onto an automatic mode while we get up and out the door in the mornings. Each individual habit means little by itself, but together they form strong patterns. Patterns in our daily life but also patterns in the neurons in our brain. So the automatic behaviour becomes harder and harder to break.

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 13.30.20 But if you can change one habit, you’ll disturb the whole pattern and notice changes in other habits. There will be matching changes in your brain. Really. In one of the cases discussed in the book a woman, Lisa, (who smoked, overate, didn’t exercise, and struggled financially), decided she needed to quit smoking in order to achieve her dream of trekking in Egypt. The changes in her brain chemistry showed the “habit” centre continued to light up, but as she stopped smoking another area in the brain believed to be involved with impulse control also began to light up. As she shed her “bad” habits that became stronger.

could making your bed every day change your habits?

So our habits become so ingrained that they’re part of our brain chemistry, that’s why they’re so hard to change. But if you can change one habit your brain adapts in a way that makes it easier to change subsequent habits. The habits that will do this are the keystone habits. Making your bed is a habit that will make you feel just a little more organised about your day, a little happier, and ultimately more productive.

The book explains the formation of memory and habit, how we need a trigger to change a habit. It also goes into detail on how marketers have used this habit formation to get us to buy their products; Pepsodent taught Americans to brush their teeth, based not on health benefits but on removing a naturally occurring and harmless film that forms on your teeth.

It’s a fascinating delve into how our minds work, and how we could “reset” the bad habits by making tiny, incremental adjustments, one habit at a time.

image DAY 11 ~ where you sleep /Ainslie/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Inexperience Pride

A talented, enthusiastic young woman who was recently hired to work in social media admitted last week that it’s sometimes difficult to speak up in meetings because everyone else has so much experience.

I asked how much experience the other people had, “20 years” she answered.

“Is that 20 years of increasing responsibility and doing increasingly complex work or 20 years of doing the same thing every year?”

Her expression showed that this a revelation; she suddenly realised that not all experience is equal. We talked more about the difference between experience and expertise; she was hired for her expertise and she’s developing so fast it’s crazy to feel intimidated because her time in the job is relatively short.

I’m not alone in thinking that years in the job shouldn’t be the only thing that’s valued, Daniel Gulati at HBR sees inexperience as an advantage. I don’t think it’s always an advantage – but the fresh perspective is worth listening to, and we should look at expertise as well as experience.

By the time we ended our discussion I could see her perspective had shifted. She no longer sees herself as lacking experience in meetings, but as bringing her expertise and a fresh perspective to the discussion. I guarantee her contributions are more valuable because of this change in perspective.

Image young


Enchantment; The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions

Guy Kawasaki

I read this book ages ago, and liked it enough to buy a copy for one of my team  – and not just because I hoped he’d get to chapter 11 “How to Enchant your Boss”. It’s the usual combination of advice, examples and personal stories – and the content goes right to the end, unlike a great many business books which seem to only have three chapters of real content and then 10 chapters of repeats.

As I look through my copy now there are notes in the margins, a sign that I’ve either got something out of the book or been highly irritated by the author for some reason (or both). In the chapter titled “How to use push technology” Kawasaki says, in relation to tools like Twitter;

Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume people are honest, smart, and decent – not dishonest, stupid, and conflicted. Don’t lose your civility when you communicate digitally. And assume everything you do is public and permanent, so  you are leaving fingerprints for anyone to see forever.

In the margin next to it I’ve written “Social Media Policy 101”, and it is the basic philosophy behind the social media guidelines we’ve just written for our company.

Kawasaki emphasises the importance of telling stories rather than giving data (although data has its place) or listing features/benefits. He walks the talk; the book is liberally sprinkled with personal stories illustrating his point – my favourite being Stephen J. Cannell’s story in the sub-chapter “suck it up”. Cannell was the creator/co-creator of a number of high rating TV shows, and he reports on a discussion about weak scripts he had with James Garner who said that when a weak script comes down he figures its the best the writing department could do in that week, and that it was up to the acting department to step up. What a pro. It’s an attitude we should all use – assuming our colleagues have done the best they can at the time with what they have, and step up our own game. (Garner went on to comment that Cannell had never sent him two bad scripts in a row).

Enchantment” is an easy read, with ideas presented in a way that you can taste the inspiration or dive into something a bit more practical. Its focus is the softer side of change management – but deeper, about building the capability in yourself and your team to adapt, to build a better business.

And if you need proof that crowdsourcing can work read the “coverphon” at the back on how the cover got designed.

cover image from Amazon

New Years Resolutions

Welcome to 2012

I know we’re halfway through January but I’ve had a slow start to the year with a long break visiting family and friends on the other side of the world.

So here I am on my first post of the year, and I’ve been thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. There was a flurry of posts on this subject from Christmas until about 5 January including a timely reminder from HBR that some resolutions might be about stopping ineffective behaviour at work, and the advertising to join a gym/lose weight/stop smoking and generally improve your life has escalated. But it was a quiet comment from a colleague I respect that inspired me to write this.

“I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions,” she said “you can decide any day of the year to make a change in your life”.

I don’t do resolutions either, but there is something healthy about taking some time to look back at what you’ve achieved, and what you’d like to improve and the end of year seems a natural moment to do that. However natural it is to translate that into resolutions it seems we’re not good at keeping them.

Around half of those who set resolutions succeed in keeping them occasionally, only 8% always keep them, compared with 24% who never keep them according to Daily Infographic.

So what goes wrong? Well, we’re too ambitious, making resolutions that are “significantly unrealistic”, according to Psychology Today. We’ll also think that solving one issue – reducing debt or exercising more – will fix our whole life and then then become discouraged when that turns out not to be the case.

There is plenty of advice all over the internet on how to improve your chances of keeping your resolutions the most common items are; focus on one goal, make it specific, make it measurable, take it in small steps, celebrate success – and laugh at failure.

Psychology Today’s list also reflects the advice of my wise colleague “Don’t wait till New Year’s eve to make resolutions. Make it a year long process, every day”


Image New Year Mosaic 2008 /maplemama/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A New Location

We’ve just moved offices. We packed everything into boxes, labelled them, and left the old office on Thursday night.

On Friday we arrived at the new office to find boxes all over the place, desks in the wrong places, tall cupboards where no cupboards were needed, computers half set up and no phones. I was not upset about the “no phones” part of the scenario.

I miss the building we used to work in. It’s modern and new, it’s all glass, with internal gardens, wonderful art on the walls, a great coffee corner, and I knew exactly how to get stuff done there.

The new building was was modern and cutting edge when it was built – more than 20 years ago. Compared to the old building it’s huge and complicated and I don’t know how anything works; on Monday I couldn’t sort out a courier delivery, yesterday I couldn’t get access to the building for a visitor. I still have no idea who to call about a problem with the locks.

I’m figuring it out, that “new girl” feeling will decrease, but things are not as they were; we’ve been on a mission and we still haven’t found good coffee.

image London Desk Move  / NHS Confederation /Barbara Agnew/ CC BY-2.0