A recurring theme for me over the past several years is how easy it is for outsiders to judge organizations and the humans toiling away within. If you haven’t been ensconced in a proper org for a while, it can be hard to imagine the daily dysfunction. From the outside looking in, it’s too easy to make assumptions about what is/isn’t happening to cause the dysfunction.
If I may borrow from Tolstoy: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
I’d argue the same is true for organizations. Healthy organizations likely have much in common. But unhealthy organizations are unhealthy in a myriad of dysfunctional ways. The challenge is finding a path out of your organization’s particular dysfunction.
When you’re on the inside, and you hear the market pontificating, it can feel like every other organization in the world is far ahead of yours. They’re killing it; they’re slaying. But here’s the thing, no one’s really killing it. Few are slaying.
Sure there are some organizations that have invested year over year and are starting to reap benefits of not taking their eyes off the transformation ball.
The lion’s share of organizations are just like you. They’ve got some Ws and a whole lotta Ls. And that’s ok.
These 2 Tenets
If you’re on the inside, feeling hopelessly stuck on Legacy Mountain, these are your Top 2 Tenets to optimize the business outcomes you’re focused on:
- Study what others are doing – their Wins and Losses.
- Understand the challenges of driving change so that you can be a force for good and not Sisyphus.
Study Others – but HOW
The good news is there are plenty of super smart people who are studying the transformation market, making sense of it, drawing conclusions, verifying with colleagues and all we have to do is follow a few of them. It’s an expedited path to knowledge from trusted sources. Here are some of my trusted sources, who are also highly valued in the market:
Rachel Happe, Founder Engaged Orgs. While Rachel is a top global leader on Community Management, she’s overall brilliant regarding what makes for a healthy or unhealthy organization. I’ve learned so much from her over the years and continue to evangelize her work and research to my community. She’s great on twitter too.
Marshall Kirkpatrick, VP Buyer Enablement Research at Sprinklr (Marshall on twitter). I cannot keep up with Marshall. I don’t know how his brain processes what it processes in the time it processes it. But I am a happy standbyer, taking it all in. Marshall generously covers a wide variety of topics, but his ability to listen to the market, spot trends, draw conclusions, and then share his insights is what’s had me a fan for many years. Plus super nice guy.
Diginomica “Insights for the digital enterprise” is a team of enterprise tech journalists and analysts and I don’t know how this team does it but it’s like they are inside these organizations every day. For folks who haven’t actually worked for the orgs they report on (or at least they haven’t worked there for quite some time), it’s like they’re embedded anyway. They are ridiculously good at knowing exactly what is going on and reporting on it. They are generous with both criticism and praise where it’s deserved. And we all get to consume their in depth reporting.
Helen Bevan, Chief Transformation Officer at the NHS. I met Helen via my community on twitter; she and her team are way ahead of the pack on transformation (in health care, no less) and they are always sharing their resources and key learnings. This is someone you should absolutely be following on twitter. If you’re looking to be a part of positive change, Helen will save you loads of time and heartache 🙂
Understand The Challenges of Driving Change
First: the cards are stacked against us (hello 2nd Law of Thermodynamics + humans don’t like change). Sorry. But once you know that and understand that there’s art and science to this work, you actually can drive meaningful change.
The resources above will certainly help and I’d also recommend a book for both inspiration and a model:
The Power of Pull (co-authors John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison). Friends, I ordered the audio book because I am a walker and love audiobooks for long walks. Mistake. This book is so good that I wanted to take too many notes for a walk, so I then ordered the paperback. Worth it.
These authors detail a life-changing, work-changing new system that goes a long way toward addressing the root cause behind why companies are mired in the legacy muck that stalls their transformation. If you care about driving change, or even just unshackling yourselves from Legacy Mountain, go get this book.
Just a couple of notes (paraphrased with John Hagel’s permission)
- Never ever underestimate the power of the immune system in a larger organization and its resistance to change.
- People are well-intentioned – they’re not ill-intentioned. They want to do what is best for the company and if what is best for the company is the stuff that got us here, that’s what they’re gonna drive for until they understand the bigger picture.
- The most – the most – powerful part of learning is not sharing existing knowledge because that’s depreciating at an accelerating rate. The key is creating new knowledge through acting together and then sharing that new knowledge with others.
- Inter-departmental working groups on the front-line of organizations are key to driving performance improvement, yet the performance of these working groups is rarely measured.
Organizations are messy. There’s no one path off Legacy Mountain. But learning from other teams + understanding how to navigate the complexity of change absolutely speeds your path to better outcomes.