Setting the foundation of a learning organization

Through my consulting, I talk to a lot of different levels within an organization.  When I talk to the entry level staff, they wish that leadership was more data-driven in their decisions.  When I talk to the middle management, they wish that had more data to inform decision-making.  When I talk to leadership, they wish they had data in a format to make better decisions.  So where is the disconnect?  Here are my observations and tips

Five Keys You Should Know for Organizational Initiatives

MCD has been working with numerous clients to implement organization-wide initiatives.  Many of these efforts have focused on project management or knowledge management.  Through our work with dozens of clients we have consistently seen these 5 keys as essential to successful implementation of these important efforts. Many of these seem like common sense but they are often overlooked or not clearly addressed.  

1.     Set clear expectations that serve as the target the organization strives to achieve through the initiative or change.  Too often organizations articulate a broad range vision or strategic plan but fail to clearly communicate what that plan means to staff expectations of performance.  Leadership teams need to ensure that they clearly express their expectations of staff with regard to the initiative or change.  These expectations allow all people in the organization an understanding of what they have to deliver.  Expectations do not have to be static and can be adapted, modified and changed as conditions change.  Expectations can also vary as organizations deliver a wide array of services and products. However, they have to consistently and clearly communicated so that there is universal understanding.  Expectations help establish a new policy regime to which the organization must comply.

2.     Develop the mechanisms to fulfill the established expectations.  Once the expectations have been agreed to, staff need to have the mechanisms – tools and processes – to meet the new demands.  Most organizations already have many good tools and processes that can be utilized to meet the expectations, however, few staff often only know of these tools.  Unearthing what is currently working and shining a light on those practices and tools is an important way to quickly create consistency out of existing best practices.  Where gaps in mechanisms exist, internal cross-cutting working groups and teams can be assigned the work of building new systems. 

3.     Encourage innovation in implementing the initiative or change.  Too often organizations want to dictate the process or mechanisms staff need to utilize and forget the big picture.  If staff are meeting the expectations, does it really matter what tool they use?  Staff may want to adapt the tools developed or use their own tools and systems and this should be encouraged.  It may lead to enhancements to the overall suite of tools and processes or collective mechanism.  It also emphasizes results instead of workflow which can be empowering to staff, creating greater support for the initiative or change.

4.     Build capacity of staff to effectively utilize the mechanisms that allow them to deliver the expectations.  Having the right mechanisms is not enough if staff cannot effectively use them.  Staff need to be introduced to and trained on the expectations, the mechanisms and the processes associated with the new initiative or change.  All staff should be involved in at least a high-level training and other staff may need deeper dives into specific content as appropriate.  Training should be accompanied with coaching.  No one will remember everything they are introduced to in a training and different elements of the system will be actualized at different times within a staff person’s time with an organization.  Point of use coaching is essential to ensuring staff are able to effectively utilize the new mechanisms.  On-going training plans for new staff and as refreshers for existing staff also have to be considered and planned.

5.     Sustain the initiative or change by treating it as a fluid construct.  No initiative or change will continue without needing to adapt to changing external and internal environments.   However, constant changing and adaptation leads to confusion and diminishes effective and consistent practice.  Organizations need to conduct at least an annual review when both expectations can be revisited by the leadership team and key mechanisms and processes adapted or changed by staff.  Adjustments may need to be made outside of these regular timeframes, but those should be treated as special circumstances.  After annual reviews, the organization must ensure effective and consistent communications around all modifications-- the one constant will be communications.


What do you think of these ideas?  Do you have other ideas for organizations planning on embarking on such efforts?  Please share with us your keys as we are constantly looking to expand our learning.

Seeing Cutlure

Seeing Cutlure

Work is done through people. And how well it is done. How efficiently it is done.  How easy or hard it feels.  How creative, supportive, innovative, aggressive, competitive, mean, kind, warm or cold it is and feels.  That is the story of every organization’s interpersonal dynamics.  It’s the observer’s description of its culture

Rules and Decisions

I was thinking about rules and decisions today.  (That kind of day, I suppose :)

This occurred to me.  A rule is a special kind of decision.  It says:  "there is no circumstance, unless we have outlined it here, that should cause us to change our mind.  This is what we will do and decide every time."

They're handy, they're quick, they're efficient.  

And rules, like all decisions are made in time, space and context.  They serve us.  Unless they don't.

I wonder if we should be doing a little decision-making spring cleaning for ourselves? Anything getting a little predictable that you could institute a handy rule for?  

Any rule not seeming to work, as the "exception to the rule" has become the new norm?

A good spring cleaning can do wonders to clear the space.

Seize the Moment

By-passing the moment because I am too busy driving a strategy, or winning a point, or creating a life,  is living an oxymoron.   Life is not a thing, an entity, a structure.  It's a collection.  A subset of experiences.  A venn diagram of sorts about how I, we, you, they my family, my colleagues, my friends,  all define themselves and each other and write their own stories.  

Life is a collection of moments.  The sum story of which we never know until the chapter is over.

What's the story you are writing,now?  Right now?  If we froze the action,  what words would you want to see on the page that would describe the story of the moment?  

Does that suggest an action?

Time and Tide

They don't wait and they will knock you on your bottom if you aren't paying attention

It is said "time and tide wait for no man".  (No mention of ladies of course, but that's a topic for another day when I am more tuned into my inner Hillary.).

When I have heard this in the past, when I was younger, I used to think about the power of the tide, small in the moment but so powerful over time with its relentlessness.  

But as I've gotten older and seen more, I see the tide more like those big sneaker waves.  The kind at the beach that knock you from behind, whirlpooling you in a deluge of sand, shells at other disgusting bits you are glad you can't see.  You hold your breath, clutch your suit so you aren't left completely vulnerable and await the end.  When you have to get up, scramble back to safety carrying a most uncomfortable bag of sand in your private areas.  

Yep.  That's more like my experience.  We can't read and say enough these days about leaders and leadership.  This political season is mind-blowing in irony, pomposity and sheer utter ridiculousness.  Peacocks strutting about in ever increasing ridulous plummage.  I am convinced we have lost our national sanity.  But let's not pollute our minds right now with thoughts of our shameful political side show.

What about those good leaders?  Those men and women, who come authentically along and with good intention insert themselves ready to lead, to be plunged into the relentless current, pulled along unable to resist the tide, let alone lead in a different direction.  What are they to do?  Small rescue steps first.  Not big thrashing about, big moves, big grasps, don't work and hasten the time to think and move purposefully.  Small agile, adaptive steps.  

What is the next step?  Ask yourself this question:  "What is the next indicated thing?"  And then, do that.

Continuous Incremental Adaptions: AKA "Change Management for real"


 We don't really "manage change" all that well, do we?  Truth is, "change" isn't  what we human's do.  Aside from the cataclysmic event, we just don't make radical shifts overnight, no matter how compelling the plan or pretty the graphics.

What we do and do well, is make continuous adaptations to ever-changing conditions.  I didn't make a jump, starting from my kitchen rotary phone of the 70's.  (You may know the type:  goldenrod yellow, the wall-hanging model, with the super long twisty cord).  Leaping overnight, to my super-office assistant, Siri housed in iPhone 6.  

There were numerous cycles of a series of incremental improvements followed by a technological leap, including touchtone, handheld, wireless, car, mobile, cellular, smart phones and who knows what is coming next.  That's how life changes, in small incremental adaptations, that build in momentum culminating in leaps, followed by the start of a new cycle.

Organizations are combinations and structures of humans.  Same instincts as one, just compounded by the multitude of possibilities.  We need to treat them as such.

My question to you Leaders is, Why are you still trying to "drive change"?  

You can, but not like that.   You can't "drive" all of that toward a single purpose.  But you can build the adaptation skill of your units and their people by creating a culture of Continuous Incremental Adaptations.  Striving for agility, not definition,   Nimble, quick, flexible, adaptive teams, adaptive from an approach, a culture, a vision of continual adpatiation and local innovation.