Dale had to admit that Lucas was a problem, just as Barb had predicted. "I don't know what to do about him," he said. "Sometimes I just want to wait until the next reorg and then try again after we boot Lucas."
"Oh, great idea. And you can cancel Marigold the same day," Barb suggested, not seriously — they needed Lucas. "And then you can resign, too. Neat. I like it."
"Yeah," he said. Dale sighed, staring at nothing. "I get it, I just don't know what to do."
Culture change is difficult. Complex change projects tend to expose management problems of long standing, which then interfere with the change effort. But culture change is easier if we keep in mind some lessons from the game of Pick-Up Sticks.
When I was little, we had to while away a lot of summer days, mostly doing kid things I can't tell you about. But I can tell you about a game called Pick-Up Sticks. It came in a cardboard tube with a jillion thin, colored sticks, about five inches (13 cm) long, with sharp, pointy ends. Because of the pointy ends, the game is probably illegal today, or frowned upon, even though hardly anybody ever got seriously injured playing Pick-Up Sticks.
is like playing
You want to change
some things, and keep
others as they are.
Surprises pop up
everywhere.You play the game by gathering all the sticks (except the black one) in a tight fist, and then dropping them on the floor so they land in a tight jumble. Then the players take turns picking up the sticks from the pile one by one, using the black stick as a tool, until more than one stick moves. When that happens, you lose your turn and the next player takes over.
Executing organizational change is like playing Pick-Up Sticks, because you want to change some things, and keep others as they are. Surprises pop up everywhere. Here are some lessons for change agents from the game of Pick-Up Sticks.
- Address first those issues that stand alone. Dealing with interlocking problems is hard.
- If two players work on two sticks at the same time, both lose. Work on only one issue at a time.
- Be deliberate
- Change, like Pick-Up Sticks, requires patience and concentration. Move slowly, plan carefully, and simulate.
- Watch for interlocks
- Sometimes sticks rest on each other in an interlocked loop: A on B, B on C, and C on A. Removing one disturbs the others. When you have no choice, do the best you can.
- Watch the weather
- Pick-Up Sticks is more fun on a calm day. Winds make it difficult. Change efforts are much easier when the outside world is stable and supportive. Don't wait for turbulent times.
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More articles on Organizational Change:
- Look Before You Leap
- When we execute complex organizational change, we sometimes create disasters. It's ironic that even
in companies that test their products thoroughly, we rarely test organizational changes before we "roll
them out." We need systematic methods for discovering problems before we execute change efforts.
One approach that works well is the simulation.
- Training Bounceback
- Within a week after we've learned some new tool or technique, sometimes even less, we're back to doing
things the old way. It's as if the training never even happened. Why? And what can we do to change this?
- The Passion-Professionalism Paradox
- Changing the direction of a group or a company requires passion and professionalism, two attributes
often in tension. Here's one possible way to resolve that tension.
- Organizational Roots of Toxic Conflict
- When toxic conflict erupts in a team, cooperation ends and person-to-person attacks begin. Usually we
hold responsible the people involved. But in some cases, the organization is the root cause, and then
replacing or disciplining the people might not help.
- Cyber Rumors in Organizations
- Rumor management practices in organizations haven't kept up with rumor propagation technology. Rumors
that propagate by digital means — cyber rumors — have longer lifetimes, spread faster, are
more credible, and are better able to reinforce each other.
See also Organizational Change for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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