Draft or Final

Agreement

Some organisations have a different approach to how they handle the status of a document. The approach belies a more fundamental culture of how work is commissioned and reviewed and how staff are viewed.

Background

Report
Report

One of my clients exhibited odd behaviour regarding commissioning work and approving it.

Due to the nature of the engagement, decisions were made by me and then relayed to the client. That, almost unilateral, form of decision-making has not be the norm for my engagements. Instead, I’d have preferred to have reviewed the actions while I was working on those actions (rather than after the fact). It was all a bit backwards compared to any other client engagement, where we would address scope questions early on and progress from that more detailed, joint understanding.

Even though I was assessing business capability maturity, it felt contractual. I would have preferred a more collaborative approach, but the organisation’s approach to generating change was a contractual one. It’s an issue I’ve seen before but not as stark as with this client.

Status

Correcting
Correcting

What I’d noticed with this client, was that if a document were released (no matter what version or draft status), it would be treated as final and published. The review comments would imply that the author had made mistakes and that it should never have been released in that format. Fortunately that didn’t happen to me, but that’s probably more to do with how I released documents. My documents had the same version control I’m used to including with many clients and consultancies. Draft documents (assuming little or no sensitive content) are published early to the intended audience for review, in order to influence the outcome and content of the report. The more sensitive the content, the more restricted the initial distribution and the earlier that guidance is requested.

With this particular client in mind, that approach would raise conflicting issues. The reviewers wanted to be able to influence the outcome of the commissioned work, due to the political status within the organisation. But the reviewers wanted to meet as a group to review the version, not necessarily as a steering group, to guide the work to completion, but as a review panel.

Implication

Review Panel
Review Panel

I had to tread carefully as to what documents I would release to anyone, regardless of draft status. While I’m used to not initially sharing electronic versions of documents with some clients, it was more important with this client. It created an odd culture, where people would complete work before releasing it, which then created rework and longer delays due to having to fit in reviews and changes.

Perversely, it also created a set of behaviours where many documents never reached a true state of finalisation or approval. Instead, they continued in some draft existence until ignored or replaced. That was a common occurrence, where I’d be looking for a previous strategy document, to find that it never reached completion, but became generally accepted as defining a destination or discarded. However, there had been no formal acceptance or rejection of the content, just a tacit decision across many people.

Reverse-Engineering the Culture

Hierarchy of pieces
Hierarchy of pieces

I think that much of the commission and review behaviour occurred due to the hierarchical nature of the organisation. That culture enforced a situation where superiors reviewed the output of their underlings. Couple that with an admonishing culture, rather than a praising culture, and you end up with a situation in which documents have to be final, or the critique becomes more about the person than about the document itself.

This was more than just a client seeing a document and then acting on it, treating it as a final document, e.g. to assist with negotiation or alter their position within the organisation. This was a systematic approach to not adhering to how artefacts are created and developed through to release and acceptance.

There was a severe hierarchy in the organisation where one grade couldn’t comfortably jump a grade when communicating, instead everything had to be passed up or down the chain. While organisations can work like that, many adapt and maintain the lines of communication even with flexibility and the exigencies of operating in any modern market. This organisation did not flex and those that did flex were generally put them back into place.

All of this led to gross inefficiencies and confusion due to navigating the corporate hierarchy. I’ll reiterate, the concept isn’t rare, but the ultra-strict adherence to hierarchy is rare.

This particular client compounded the inefficiencies from the hierarchy with the inefficiencies of poor document version management (or rather the document acceptance process), resulting in intricate, exhausting dance of what to share and what not to share, who to share it with and who not to share it with. All of this encouraged and promoted a contractual culture rather than a collaborative culture.

High-heels, guitars and cultural expectations

high-heeled-shoes

Expectations can run deeper than you may at first think, especially if those expectations are based on decades of cultural information/misinformation. This may affect attitudes towards quality or acceptance of new ideas, including industry innovations. If we’re aiming to make changes in an organisation, we should look out for the deep-rooted expectations of what’s acceptable.

It’s about the form

high-heeled-shoes
high-heeled-shoes

High-heels have been a feature of women’s attire for centuries, especially since the latter half of the last century. They’ve become a focus for discussing what’s acceptable in our society, to the extent of legislation in some countries banning companies from requiring its female workforce to wear heels. But also, from a moral perspective about whether wearing them can ever be required. Setting the moral and legal arguments aside, let’s take a quick look at what’s behind them.

Morris conducted an experiment analysing the attractiveness of female gait with the observers having no idea that the women were or were not wearing heels or even that the people they were observing were men or women. The observed were all women, and they all wore flats and heels. The observers had no idea that they’d see the same person’s gait twice; once with heels, once with flats. The result was that the “video clips of the walks in high heels were judged to be significantly more attractive than those in flats”. So there is an characteristic that we find more attractive and that characteristic reveals itself in our perception of gait which high heels enable.

A follow-up experiment reached a further conclusion, summarised as “by exaggerating the normal female gait, high heels serve to falsely enhance our perception of the wearer’s femininity”

So we end up with a cultural expectation of femininity based on the shoe type. Wear flats and you appear less feminine. Wear heels and you accentuate your femininity. And this is whether or not the heels are the most attractive (not just the effect that they have on the wearer) or which footwear would be the functionally most appropriate attire.

Consider a woman walking towards you. If she’s wearing flats, she’d be considered less attractive than if she were wearing heels. But it’s the same woman with the same attributes, same personality, even the same body, but her form and gait is altered by the use of the heels. It’s an expectation and it’s deeply rooted. I’m not saying that it’s the right thing or that women should wear heels, just noting the cultural expectation.

It’s about the tone

musician
musician

Guitarist have for decades sought the tone of the electric guitar pioneers. Think Beatles-era guitar sounds. Those are the tones that act as a reference for all modern guitar tones. Later, Jimi Hendrix took that tone and added colour to it through distorting amplifiers and effects units. Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath took Hendrix’s tone and detuned it. And so on. You can trace the line back to 1950’s popular tones.

Let’s say I innovate and introduce an exceptional guitar amplifier based on amazing audio technology that can clearly reproduce the guitar tone as it’s produced from the guitar. It would fall flat and no-one would buy it. Guitarists are not interested in the best (if we define best as “accurate” to the sound made by the guitar). The reference from the 1950s was made using inefficient amplifiers, inefficient cables, substandard guitars, low technology in strings and speakers that were appalling by today’s hifi standards. Even the speaker in your tv has a better response that those 1950s speakers. But that’s the tone we recognise as good. It’s so deeply ingrained in our models of what counts as good, that more accurate to the guitar doesn’t mean better. In fact the opposite.

There’s an additional complication in that the tone we hear for the guitar isn’t even that 1950s tone from the guitar amps. That produced tone is manipulated at the mixing desk, with appropriate equalisation to filter out the parts of the tone that we don’t need and especially to filter out the parts of the tone that would conflict with other instruments. So if you listen to the isolated tone that’s been recorded, it’s reedy and thin compared to what you’d expect. But add that isolated track into the rest of the song and your brain fills in the gaps.

So when we hear a guitar in a song, we expect it to have a compromised frequency range compared to what the guitar and amplifier can actually produce. If we heard what it could do, then it would sound odd, very odd indeed.

Similar to the high heels, we’ve built up a cultural expectation over decades of what constitutes good. It doesn’t mean it is good and, similar to heels, in many ways it is worse than what can be achieved. But it’s difficult to argue with deep-rooted expectations and, while we know it is possible to change minds, changing something this ingrained will take a lot of effort, time and patience.

Thoughts

As transformation agents (whether directors, analysts, managers, etc), we often miss the cultural expectations. We could use the Empathy Map Canvas, Lewin’s Force-field Analysis, Prosci’s ADKAR or whatever model your organisation chooses to use. But we should be careful as we use each of them, because sometimes the expectations are that ingrained, it’s difficult to bring them to surface. If you were to ask members of the public to attend a focus group on guitar tone and then worked through what’s prompting the change or resisting it, would the concept of the tone from the 1950s actually feature as an arrow that resists change? I doubt it. It’s invisible to them.

Instead, these hidden expectations create a risk to the change programme in potentially blocking the changes for what initially appear to be non-sensical reasons. That is, until you uncover the expectations which run deeper than you first thought.

Now consider the above examples of high-heels and guitar tone. Imagine trying to motivate just the people in your organisation to accept the better alternative (i.e. flats for function regardless of event or a hifi guitar sound). How difficult do you think that would be? And how does that compare to recent significant changes you’ve had to introduce?

Any comments, get in touch @alanward

Innovation is not a Space

Image of grassI’m increasingly seeing clients with innovation spaces and I’m seeing more of them on social media/news channels where companies are outfitting office spaces with fun decorations and repurposed objects (e.g. tuk-tuks as meeting spaces). This concept of an innovation space has been introduced to change the way that employees generate solutions.

What’s the problem?

The problem with this is a belief that innovation is a space, i.e. create a non-conformist space and label it as your innovation. Then expect magic to happen. But the magic doesn’t happen.

Here’s the truth, you can introduce innovation in a windy portakabin. It’s not comfortable (and that breaks one of the rules I’ll mention later), but it can be done.

You don’t need fake grass carpets, slinky springs, koosh balls, nerf guns or whatever else is hip at the time your innovation designers come into your organisation. Those things could help, but they don’t guarantee innovation.

Where does innovation come from?

Innovation comes from within the collective mind. No, I’m not getting all new-age here, I referring to the effect you achieve when you put people in a room together, remove some boundaries, give them a task and prompt with them with different perspectives. Continue reading “Innovation is not a Space”