The Great Divide

Bridging the generational divide with 360 degree mentoring and acknowledging that ‘talent’ is to be found in all generations.

I’ve been reading Gallup’s ‘State of the American Workplace 2017’. While it is US-centric and I am sitting in an exceptionally warm England right now, it does have relevance.

An item that caught my eye was “Millennials are more likely […] to say a job that accelerates their professional or career development is ‘very important’ to them. (45% of Millennials vs 35% Gen-Xers and 18% Baby Boomers).”(1)

As we well know, career advancement and opportunities stem from the ‘who’ we know more than the ‘what’ we know. An aspect of this is having the ability to get that influential individual to notice you/your talent. And this requires people skills, understanding how to interact or, as they say in Japan, ‘read the air’. This is not a taught module, we can book-learn, but putting it into practice still requires honing though life experiences. I’ll come back to this in a minute.

I have been debating with a few peers about whether the focus on the Millennial entering the workforce has been so successful that other generations may feel marginalised or disregarded.

On the one hand workplaces need to change to be efficient, challenge costs, attract talent etc. On the other is the risk of alienating your existing talent base – those who have been hired for a while, possibly a looong while. I’ve led workplace change programmes where it’s been a challenge get buy-in from non-Millennials. Some of it is education, some of it is assurance, some of it is ensuring that they are, and feel, heard. The common theme of resistance is the fear that the workplace will become uncomfortable, thus unwelcoming to them.

adult ball pit

‘Jump In’ Art Installation,  Ball Pit for Adults, London  |   Stylist.co.uk

‘We can inject a fresh approach in your space to support your way of working and creativity, as well as celebrating your department’s personality – which is quite fun.’ I said.

‘I don’t want ‘fun”, Bob scowled, ‘I don’t want something like a ball pit or a shed to meet in. I’m not in a playground, I’m at work.’

It’s an extreme RL example though it is clear: people have seen Google offices…and it is outside some comfort zones.

Adding to this is the debate about how to maintain the company culture with influxes of headcount or where younger people join the business and move on swiftly. And let us not forget IT changes – oh Lordy, let’s not even go there.

Is it me or is there a divide starting here? Which brings me back to my point.

We hear that people want to further their careers swiftly. We hear that people moan about the changes (and their IT). So we have a choice. We can either carry on moaning, working hard to grind down enthusiasm and youthful ideas about changes (I’ve been on the receiving end) or we can learn from each other.

ignore the laptop

Source: 123rf.com

We Gen-Xers and older have skills born of experience, the ‘battle scars’ if you will of projects, people, business culture. Where we may struggle is, as IT adopters, with changes in technology (I routinely teach non-Millennial colleagues how to use Gmail). The changes in moving away from an annual review, with documented school reports* employee progress to measure against can be a challenge, it requires a change in management skills. It requires change, full stop.

Where Millennials may struggle is how to navigate office politics, how to layer on information to give end users the illusion of control while stacking the deck in your favour**, or how to challenge a client without undermining or embarrassing them. These skills are life lessons. Some may already have these skills in natural abundance, others have a deep, aching paucity.

We are st risk of creating a ‘nether the twain’ environment. Remember: Space is easy; people are hard. Maybe it’s time to start focusing on the people.

An easy (and cheap) way of resolving this, and creating a win-win situation, is to instigate a 360 mentoring process. Assign a new hire to an existing employee mentor, preferably one that has been around the block a few times. The goal is to ensure ongoing, impartial support, people skills (office politics) development, cultural adoption and swift feedback in both directions. Bear in mind that each of the items in that (in-exhaustive) list have different meanings to different generations. It’s not about “gettin’ down with the kids, dude” but to do with developing understanding of how we each are optimised to work at our best potential. Each generation can teach and support the other.

But that’s the manager’s job, surely? Not always; what are the chances of a manager teaching their direct reports how to manage up?

There is much we can learn from each other. Let’s give it a shot.

——

(1)  Gallup 2017, Page 31

* I have been accused of being a Millennial in the past; studiously avoiding the risk of sun damage to my skin is evidently paying off..! One thing I do identify with is immediate feedback and continual development. No point saving it all up for year-end and citing examples that can barely be remembered.

** Example: they know asking for a pool or crèche is a non-starter. They also know they can argue loopholes into your data to argue for more desks or more space than is appropriate. This is why you stack the deck – and use the Framework of Influence to do so.

 

 

 

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Creature Comforts

Changing ways of working is about changing the mindset, adopting new tools and finding ways of what works for the individual.

I love caddisfly larvae.  This is probably down to reading Charles Kingsley’s ‘The Water Babies’ back in my dim and distant kindergarten years. The only time they are prettier and more charming than hermit crabs is when man interferes but I admire their ability to make a home for themselves out of selective detritus. Possibly a bit like the average desk user….

desk image - organised chaos

Many, many moons ago I had an allocated desk. It was a regular sized, regular desk, with a phone, a chair, a pedestal and a pinnable area.  It had just enough clear surface to house my laptop, my forearms and a re-purposed tile sample as a coffee mug coaster. My excuse was how my workload needed to be managed. There were a series of trays (in/out/pending/not sure), really big projects had really big files that sat separately. There were reference books; the company culture, company standards, a few novels I’ve been given but not taken home. The pinboard was covered in….stuff. In my defense, it was all work-related stuff; no family photos, no toys, no plants, no Star Wars figurines balanced across the top of the monitor in regimented chronological order.

At the end of the desk was a 2.5LM storage unit. It was full. Full of samples for old projects, printed reports, paper catalogues and trade magazines. There was even a pull-out filing rail holding a filing system for all work in progress or had been completed in the last 12 months. Once an active job had been completed, it would be filed. Every Christmas I’d go through the files and shred anything created before the previous Christmas. In effect, at the end of each year there would be 24 months of filing to go though.

Then there was the stuff in, on and behind my pedestal. Moods are fickle. Fancies vary. Where one end-user had seven pairs of shoes in her pedestal (not including the commute’s gym shoes and the pair of heels she had on her feet) mine related to breakfast fads and fancies, which happened at the office because, sometimes, caffeine just isn’t enough.

fb post - stuff on desk

A pretty bad FB update….the clothes were (slowly) en route to a homeless shelter.

One day I had an epiphany. It coincided with a lessened workload therefore space to think. So I chucked everything out. Everything.

  • Filing? The business had more computers than people, a network and our team had online filing. Who needs to keep paper copies, too? It all went. All in one go.
  • Trade Mags? Scan & electronically file anything you’re going to use, URL bookmark companies/products of interest, register for online magazine issues and chuck the paper copies into the recycling bin.
  • Samples? I used them once in a blue moon. Off it all went to the local primary school to help out with their arts and crafts.
  • Trade catalogues? They change every year. Trees give you oxygen, you should love them above the printed page. Recycle what you have and never accept another paper catalogue or price list again.
  • In/Out trays? This turned into an A5 notebook for actions to complete.

These days, I have reduced further still.  Six months ago I was getting through a standard A5 book a quarter. These days I’m working on reducing this to one book per half year as I wean myself off the unbelievably cathartic, deeply satisfying and emotionally rewarding act of crossing items of a list. Admittedly, sometimes with lots and lots of crossing-out along with accusations of having a marginally psychotic gleam in my eye. I blame the caffeine.

asana monkey thing

There have been years of trying different task management platforms, of looking for ways to combine a preferred way of working with whatever is available (and free), all in an effort to streamline effectively – and not have to carry everything around.

There’s an online project management tool now replacing that A5 book of mine. It cross references by task and by calendar giving multiple ways to track progress. It rewards every ticked item with flying unicorns, narwhals, hummingbirds, rainbows and some kind of flying monkey-buffalo thing. Silly? Possibly. But it does give one an enormous sense of gleeful satisfaction.

These days, everything is on GDrive. Nothing is kept on my laptop. The obvious positives are that I/the team can always access everything – and we can work anywhere.

One of the more challenging aspects about workplaces is that people ‘nest’ their desks, like I used to; it marks their territory and gives them comfort. Generally, a heavily personalised/covered desk is a sign that the end user will find any change to their workplace challenging, even if they get to keep their desk. It is hard to let go of all the ‘me’ that surrounds them; but letting go is liberating and confidence building.

I like caddisflies not just for their larvae’s case-making abilities but also for the fact that they start in one medium (water) and move to another (air). They are not constrained by what they are born into but are released as they grow. They let go of that which becomes unnecessary and take flight.

 

The Framework of Influence

How to create a ‘Framework of Influence’ to manage engagement effectively.

At the heart of every project is a Scope. It defines the project in terms of what needs to be achieved and the work that needs to be completed to deliver said project.  That’s the easy bit.

It’s easy because ‘relocate A <business entity> to B <SqFt> space by C <date> to meet D <growth forecast> using E <desk sharing %>’ doesn’t tell you everything required to be included within the Design Management workstreams. For that you need to start asking questions about how people use the space, how they should use the space, how the business leaders want to lead business change in their staff. These kind of topics define a good amount of how the space will be designed.

This is where, if you are not careful, that you will end up unwittingly setting expectations and a brief that far outstrips the scope. This is avoidable.

  1. Know your audience. It is cynical though it is useful to assume they know little about project processes and will ask for the moon.
  2. Always go into a conversation knowing what you can/cannot offer.
  3. Promise nothing, consider most things.

Why not consider everything? Because this comes back to the scope. It’s easier in the long run to be very clear up front about what can/cannot be affected or influenced. This is why having a Framework of Influence (FoI) is critical for every piece of work that requires engagement – with clients, colleagues and suppliers.

An example below is taken from a previous project of mine. It was targeted at the Working Group which included selected end users, the architects and the change manager. The outcome was assessed and incorporated into the brief.

Blog slides

Objectives of the FoI

  • Confirm what is not possible or not up for debate (Out of Influence). This is the ‘to be obeyed’ bit.
  • Make clear where staff can debate and innovate, including simple target metrics (the human brain loves a puzzle).
  • Provide a clear direction for their journey; if you reference other sources, ie: business case, make sure the relevant pages can be shared – and fast.
  • Start behaviour awareness (liaise with the Change Manager to ensure you are on message, ideally they should be part of the Discovery process).

Remember:

  • Those you engage with many not schooled in processes or language of projects, programme or construction. Keep it simple, keep it honest. Be prepared to help their understanding.
  • They also may be an old hand at this kind of thing and be more help co-leading the Working Group than being a delegate.
  • Include another slide explaining a simple timeline of when any decisions and sign offs need to be completed, and by whom.
  • A Framework of Influence can be applied to any situation where you want to seek engagement or put governance structures into place that you require to be applied to the outcome.

 

 

Plan B

Encouraging flexibility in creatures of habit (the end user).

When we start messing with people’s work spaces, we start messing with their heads. There’s no other way around it, and it has to be acknowledged.

This is why workplace is about people, not spaces.

Spaces are easy. People are not; they are the sum of their own experiences and chemical wiring which is different to yours.

Each and every one of us has preferences that meet our own personal interpretation of pleasure, be it comfort, risk, safety, adrenaline, exposure, shelter, luxury or parsimony. If you find a good coffee place (good being subjective to your preferences) you go there the next day. If it is shut on the third day, you feel let down, right? Pleasure rituals are formed hard and fast.

I am often asked how, in a shared office environment, to stop people using the same space (desk / sofa / nook) each day. The answer is: you do not. You are not going to stop people creating preferences. Should you care if Bob repeatedly sits at the same desk? No more than you should care if he decided to wear his Christmas socks in June. Does it affect his productivity and required levels of engagement to deliver his role? Possibly, it depends on the set up, or position, of the desk….and how he’s made.

Engagement sessions at the start of the project may not reveal Bob’s singular preferences. But that’s ok. And the reason that’s OK is because not only are you going to be actively listening to everything your focus group discussions raise, including reading between the lines, you’re also going to be creating a wide variety of space types, with a variety of furniture, providing choice to cater for the broad, magnificent specimen that is office-bound humanity in as many guises as is viable.

But Bob’s going to set up home in a specific location which will then become ‘his’. How is that fair?

sheldon's spot

Plan ‘A’ – not always available (source:edition.cnn.com)

Now I’m going to assume that Bob’s just a creature of habit, that he’s a pretty easy going, if a little oblivious, guy with a perfectly understandable aversion to mornings. He likes his morning routine: it’s easy and he doesn’t have to think (we’ve all been there).

What does matter, and needs to be discussed openly, without identifying Bob, in a pre-move workshop is: What happens if you come in and someone has taken your favourite spot? The answer: Always have a Plan B. In a first come, first served environment jut because you like a particular space does not mean it is yours and yours alone. You have a choice of spaces, many of which are going to replicate your preferred spot in some form. Are you going to be mean and deliberately target Bob’s seat? Well that’s an interesting proposal Mr/s Workshop Delegate. Group, what are your views on that? Does it tie in with company culture?

To help identify Plan B’s, and support Bob in his quest for the perfect spot, the first day of a new, shared working environment should be more about trying out different spots, having a series of stand-up ‘space introduction’ sessions where you learn about how to meet an individual’s practical necessities, as well as the fun cool things. And Day 1 of the new office should start on the following day.

So when I walked into the office to find my new boss sitting at ‘my’ desk (the perfect desk, the flyby* desk, the ‘back against the wall’ desk) on his first day the voice in my head was shocked and horrified. So I just sat next to him and got on with some work.

 


*Flyby: People walk past it before they notice it, or you, are there.

Ditching the Decs

A bit of fun for Christmas…and how we can give people some joy while saving the business money!

Gather round, Brethren, it’s been a while but the time has come to talk of matters of importance.

Hallowe’en is over. Retailers have turned to glitter, soppy (yet wonderful) adverts are on TV, and they have unleashed merry hell on the eardrums via the seemingly non-stop playing of Slade*. A track, that has, I’m convinced, been played continuously since 1973, the only thing that saves us is the January to November mute button. However, I digress….

In workplaces across the land talk has turned to Christmas.

If you thought how people use their desks is fascinating, just watch them negotiate the office decoration ritual. It’s a wonderful dance of people trying to recreate their personal tastes and usually trying not to trample those of others.

Fairy lights incite debates leading to a rota so carefully orchestrated between glowing pulse, static or psychosis inducing flash that it brings back memories of student flat shares, right down to the anonymous rule breaker who changes the setting with gleeful, mischievous abandon (we know who you are). You learn to love the dancing polar bear that plays one solitary, single, repetitive Christmas tune in faux jazz – while threatening to permanently remove its batteries with a spoon in an appropriately mock stern manner.

People stand on chairs on desks (no, really, I have seen this) to hang decorations from the ceiling. Decoration-making competitions result in a plethora of Santa’s Grottys (sic) and paper chain decorations festooning the motion sensors for lighting and security alarms. One interesting Christmas, blocking the fire route in an office containing over 2000 people, a real tree, about 5ft high, was discovered next to untended lit candles (“Because they are scented and we wanted to know what they smelled like.”) We never could figure out how they got the tree into the building…

It’s not that I have anything against Christmas, quite the contrary.  As a joyful consumer of all things Christmassy, I’m a sucker for it. But not between January and October**. And it is in those months that I have the longest, most drawn out debates about Christmas decorations with end users. Usually because decorations are to be found everywhere in the workplace. Dismembered limbs of fake trees are squirrelled away under different desks; scrawny tinsel and dangling ornaments are in plastic bags in storage units, in pedestals, in wardrobes, on wardrobes. Evverywhherre….

And there is always that one person who leaves their desk decorated all year round. Are they a Seasonal Buyer? Has their own particular interpretation of Christmas joy reached such disturbing levels colleagues are afraid to discuss 24/7 Christmas? Or are they simply too lazy to put them away each year?

And it all has to be moved with them when a space is churned.

“So,” say I to pretty much every department in a business, “this wardrobe…the one solely used for Christmas decorations…do we really need to relocate it?”

“It’s multi-use” they say, using my own language against me “When it is winter the decorations are up so releasing the wardrobes for coats.”

“And how often do you need to access it…?” Say I labouring the point with a thousand yard stare.

It lead me to conduct a study on how much it cost the business to store these increasingly ragged departmental decorations, very few of which tend to be bought with business funds. The maths worked as follows:

  • Cost of a new, fake, 6ft tree with lights and decorations, including square metre costs for one month duration in London’s West End: c.£320***
  • Cost of a new storage unit to store decorations, including square metre costs for 12 months office floor space in central London: £2000 PA.

Outcome: It costs less to buy new decorations each year than it does to store them. Ditch the decs. Keep Christmas fiends happy with new stuff, keep the grinches happy with ritualised seasonal destruction.

Merry Christmas!

—–

*I’m sorry, I can’t link to that track. I just…can’t. Have this one instead. Or possibly this one. Or my personal favourite.

** Yes, January to October. Love Christmas, loathe Christmas shopping crowds. The gifts are bought (and this year wrapped) in October. It leaves more time for eggnog and hobnobbing.

***Allowing for a luxury, pre-lit LED tree at £100 and average quality decorations at £50. Inc VAT. Excl D&I. E&OE.

How Workplace Change is Like a Novel.

How you engage will impact the acceptance of change – it’s all about how you tell the story.

Long ago and far away I had a boss whose mantra was ‘Do it right, do it once’. This is critical within workplace change. This is because we are dealing with human frailties; each participant brings a different variable to the table.

Now I’m not saying design by committee; reducing everything to the lowest common denominator is a non-viable investment and delivers more disappointment than joy. What I am saying is: know how to engage.

Change is effectively a story about a journey that creates itself in the telling.  Confused? Walk with me a while….and let’s explore two tellings of a story that changed the world.

Story 1: It’s a story about a huge battle. There are swarming crowds of humanoids having a fight, lots of yelling, slashing, and strange, war-machine type things. There’s a big stand-off at the end between two of them, they both die. The end.

Do you care? Neither do I. Life is too short to invest in something that can’t be bothered to invest in you.

Let’s try that again.

Story 2: It’s a story about the innate goodness of people, of friendship and how a journey walked together forms the tightest of bonds. It’s about characters that slowly reveal their sometimes bruised lives, letting us connect and learn what forms their motives and inspiration to continue against all odds. They walk to stand against the absolute horror of oppression and murderous tyranny. They speak to you of the possibilities of a life not worth living while showing you the way to vanquish it. And 63% remember story 5% remember statswhen characters die, you grieve.

They are the same story told in different ways. Story 1 lands you in at the end. There is no context. It does not let you connect with characters and root for someone. It treats you like a commodity.

Story 2 treats you like an individual, introducing you to characters, experiences and emotions that you can identify with. It lets you immerse yourself in the tale. And once you have connected – it stays with you after the final page. That’s why this tale spawned a vast global market (and on reflection it’s a pretty good synopsis of a good number of other books or films that stick with you).

And this is what we get when applying this to a workplace change context:

Scenario: A business has traditional approach to workplace, everyone has a desk. Managers have offices. Space is territorial. The business direction is to expand headcount within the existing building footprint. Significant changes are required to meet business objective.

Workplace Strategy: Based on data analysis (utilisation studies, compliance assessment, densities, headcount forecast, business strategy including IT and Personnel). Decision-maker level meetings take place to discuss opportunities, including relocating headcount to regional (and significantly more cost effective) offices, risks and impacts per options. The Decision-makers arrive at a decision (for this exercise let us assume this excludes regional relocation) based on cost efficiency and speed of delivery, and the new workplace is installed. The employee’s engagement is limited to the grand reveal – and the glories of the rumour mill.

I can tell you now that people who have limited (usually zero) experience of a non-traditional working environment will not have a clue how to use the new workplace.  Where is their ‘home’ for the day? Where are their friends sitting? Where does the boss find their team – and ensure they are actually working? Where do they find the boss? Effectively, where is my ‘tribe’, where is my leader?

It’s Story 1 all over again: the end user is a commodity; the concern was to complete a piece of work and short term financial gain. Someone, somewhere gets some glory (hence the grand reveal) and everyone is dragged along for the ride. I have witnessed instances of resistance and conflict caused by this method.

Badly landed workplace change will result in it being declared a non-viable option, a failure. The end users have been trained that agile working means their worth to their employer is diminished, this will affect morale. Be mindful of your well-poisoners, they can instil an equality of misery more swiftly and effectively than you can instil a positive view of the new workplace.

There is little you can do to come back from a Story 1 method. The emotions associated with work have been negatively impacted; damaged. And people have been bluntly, clumsily, told what to do with the expectation that they will obey. Trying to persuade people that something they have experienced, and been hurt by, is actually a good thing, no really it is – is nigh-on impossible. It’s the old ‘fool me once’ adage in action.

Let’s invest in a scenario that will work:

The powers that be decide on the same workplace strategy as before. Behind the scenes selected stakeholders from across the business (respected, level-headed influencers with a balanced outlook) are approached to be part of the concept working group. Group members include the key stakeholder and appointed workplace strategist/consultant. The group establish a communication strategy.

The Board then make an announcement to all employees, outlining why the change is happening, what the framework is, and when it will start. Why is important. Provide context and understanding. Representatives (approachable, responsible, possibly resistant to change because, let’s face it (and to quote my school chaplain) ‘there’s none so devout as a convert’) are sought for change workshops. Expectations are managed. Frameworks of influence defined. Then you ask a simple question….and listen.

Just. Listen.

This workshop is not about you, it’s about them. It’s a ‘safe place’ where they get to voice their likes, dislikes, frustrations, hopes, fears. Listen to the tone. See who holds the floor and the ear of others. Are there any introverts in this group; with 30-50% of the

Photo: Quietrev.com

Photo: Quietrev.com

workplace[1] being introverted, one hopes so. Identify where there may be challenges – within the workshop group, the end users and the business’s processes. Nudge the conversation back on course, gently nipping rambling in the bud. Use your skills to obtain quality information.

Then, protecting anonymity as best you can, feedback the barometer; Personnel may need to develop management skills or change performance measurements. IT may need to get some investment PDQ. And exactly what is going on with the coffee machine on the 3rd floor?

Do this in each workshop, defining the parameters of each workshop on the outset. The first three drive out the workplace plan.

The second three, are to establish a ‘Charter’ of workplace use. This requires a different selection of people and includes ‘training the trainers’. This ensures a wider inclusion specifically including line managers – after all, how are they to support people in the brave new world if they are learning how it works themselves?IMG_3166

The ‘Charter’ is essentially how end users want to use their workplace. Is it ok to leave used coffee mugs on the meeting tables? Can we have the desks cleaned for us? Can I use my earphones? What about personal phone calls? Should the sofa area be bookable?

The Charter will be unique to each area of the business, it is critical that the end users lead this, thus reinforcing their feeling of ownership and contribution to this change. The Charter will be guided by the culture and moral compass of the business and the employees. Your role is to facilitate the conversation, to enable managers to feel confident leading the change post-completion, and to ensure timing of completion coincides with that of the workplace installation.

This is Story 2. Relationships have been forged. A journey travelled. We’re all in it together (including the bosses), we have not only survived but we have influenced direction; we have been heard. And when the big finale comes, we are ready for the dawn of a new day, for those first steps into a new workplace and we feel able to live here. We know how we are expected to behave. We understand our community.

And like many a good novel, there is an epilogue:

It is also critical that the leadership understands that the existing culture will take time to change so agile working is the norm. Changing the workplace is just the beginning; the workplace behaviour change will need to be regularly coached for many months after completion until the change is absorbed into the culture. Where habits return to the old method this is because the change “[Began] with a vision or story, but [failed] to put in place the management tools that will cement the behavioral changes in place.” [2]

[1] Susan Cain, www.quietrev.com and author of Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

[2] http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2011/07/23/how-do-you-change-an-organizational-culture/

Bob and the Auditors

To resist change effectively, you need tactics and insider knowledge….

We battle-weary commuters come to know the patterns of our rush-hour comrades, not least because they mimic our own, right down to seat preference; anything over a year of taking (nearly) the same train, and targeting the same seats, leaves you knowing many of those you travel with by sight. Or you may break through the etiquette barrier and actually start conversing.

A friend of mine, let’s call him Bob, works in the city doing strange, incomprehensible things with global finance. He has more understanding about what I do – not least because he has an allocated desk, works in an office environment and has a rigid hierarchy structure reinforced by the provision of enclosed offices.

Recently, Bob and I met while striding down the platform to ‘our’ carriage.

‘Glad I saw you,’ he called out across the herd of stampeding wildebeest that are commuters on their home run, ‘I need your help. But we’ll talk when off the train.’ He performed a ‘never know who is listening’ finger wiggle at his head, narrowly avoiding clocking those nearby with his old-school attaché case.

A few minutes later we sat opposite each other. Initially, I was lost as to how he needed me. Our professional lives are polar opposites. I have no global interests worth financing (apparently, holidays do not count). Our work place theory debates have ended with his comedic sneer and a mock raised eyebrow. Then I twigged.

‘Oh God,’ I said, ‘You want to know how to stop the change, don’t you?’
‘Yep,’ he said, grinning, ‘You’re going to be my informant!’

Dang…..

His office has the work place consultants in. Strangers have been seen slowly walking through the offices, stabbing away at tablets while wearing broad, not exactly reassuring smiles while they scrutinise.

The train arrives at the terminus, our home station; we are last off the train and drag our heels up the long platform.

‘We’re having a storage audit,’ Bob said, ‘they want us to go paperless.’ He pulled a face. Bob went on to tell me that his field has contracts as thick as phone directories and as plentiful as the tomes stored in  L-Space. They refer to them ‘Oh, quite often’; his tone of voice and body language hinted otherwise.Bob's contract

‘I’m not bothered about a desk,’ he said, ‘I can work anywhere, but the contracts are a different thing. Is there a way I can argue for keeping them, what’s the lingo?’

“You want me to give you insider information,” I said “you want to know how to use their language against them as a resistance technique?”

Bob does not squirm very often (nerves of viperously competitive steel, that man) but I warrant that he does not get questioned about his work preferences that often, either. At least not by someone who knows this field, knows how to push his buttons and has a friendship that means a work place related grilling can be far more robust than those I have at work.

It turns out that his employer wanted everyone to transition to agile working; the cost efficiencies were attractive. Only the hand at the consultant’s tiller didn’t seem to be very strong.

Everyone has gone to non-allocated desking, however there are now more desks than there are people, the majority have successfully pushed to retain non-standard desks and chairs citing:

‘Questionable unique needs.’ said Bob.
“Despite the fact that the best solution for adapting to a desk lies with knowing how to use your chair properly.” said I, with dogmatic fervour.

Ultimately, allocated desking remains, albeit unofficially.

It’s a merry dance we lead, encouraging people that change has its benefits. In brutal honestly, I have probably heard every reason going why people cannot change and why the work place should remain static, or even revert to times gone by. There are times when I have been momentarily stunned, and times when the only way to stifle a laugh is to bite down hard. And the unfortunate fact remains that for every end user’s timed-to-the-minute report proving why change is not possible, any work place consultant worth their salt has a way around it.

When change reaches the individual, it needs a darn steady hand on the tiller to deliver that change effectively for the business, the stakeholders and the end users. Given the choice, none of us want change – unless we are leading it.

In my experience the best way to deliver change is for the client to have strong leadership in delivering the change message – and a commitment to sustaining work place change beyond the length of the project – combined with a bottom-up engagement and communication strategy. Engaging with a select, fair and representative group of end users ensures they feel more part of the process and are more ready for new working methods. The consultants will need a clear instruction of end goal, remits of the end users areas of influence, and a steely determination to challenge resistance while they guide people forward.

One person cannot carry a successful change, but they can certainly whip up support for resistance.

So, did I become Bob’s informant? Of course I did, the man stands his pub round without prompting.