Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Antimatter Pattern


Some fifteen years ago now, patterns seemed like they might become a widely adopted way of capturing and sharing knowledge and know-how. It also seems like they never really caught on in the software development field.

Personally, I still find them useful for organising and recording my own thoughts, and, occasionally, for sharing those thoughts with others. This post presents the StartingTheWheelOfChange pattern, which proposes the Antimatter Principle as a solution to one of businesses’ most widespread and seemingly intractable of problems:

Problem: How to create a climate, context, or situation in which folks will want to change their behaviours to the benefit of all.

What Is A Pattern?

A pattern is the formalization of a problem/solution pair, potentially useful in making design decisions. The purpose of a pattern is to codify existing design knowledge/experience so that folks can avoid constantly re-inventing the wheel. Also, by naming such patterns, people can more easily reference and share them. The term pattern was first popularised by the architect Christopher Alexander working in the fields of e.g. building design and town planning.

Some folks refer to collections of patterns – relating to a common domain or discipline – as Pattern Languages. My interest these days is primarily in Pattern Languages for business management and organisational improvement.

My Pattern Form

Most of the patterns I’ve written over the years have shared a common form. You can see an example of this form in the StartingTheWheelOfChange pattern which is the subject of this post. Briefly, this form starts with a header, and then has the following various sections below that:

  • Context: The context(s) in which the pattern might be relevant.
  • Problem: The problem this pattern purport to solve.
  • Forces: The forces at play in the problem domain described by the problem and context sections. Sometimes also known as the trade-offs.
  • Solution: The solution which proposes to solve the stated problem, in the stated context, and resolving the stated forces.
  • Examples: One or more practical examples taken from the author(s)’ personal experience in applying the solution to real-world instances of the stated problem.

Starting The Wheel of Change

The StartingTheWheelOfChange pattern suggests a solution to the question of “How to encourage widespread learning and improvement in a community such as a for-profit organisation. The full pattern is presented as a pdf.

– Bob

No Projects

The idea of “projects” in software and product development is a glaring anachronism, traceable back to the days when organisations saw each new project as “the last one we’re ever likely to run”. Absent the expectation of ever running another project, why bother moving to a more continuous, flow-based (non-project) set-up?

And of course, the idea of breaking things down into parts, and managing those parts separately, is another glaring anachronism, and one still grasped so tightly by those of the Analytic mindset.

But even the briefest of reflections about the nature of development work in organisations reveals a simple truth: just about every organisation today has a more or less continual flow of work – of new ideas transforming into products, of concepts becoming cash revenue generators.

I won’t dwell further here on the case for #NoProjects – Grant made the case quite well in his piece “What’s Wrong With the Project Approach?”. Maybe you’d like to consider the relative (dis)merits of “projects” – compared to a more flow-oriented approach?

May I just invite you to consider whether there may be other, maybe better ways of getting folks’ – and organisations’ – needs met?

And, by the by, offer up FlowChain as a simple – and complete – example of what I’m talking about in terms of one such better way.

– Bob

Five Ways Agile Governance Can Help You Have More Fun

“Governance” is a scary word isn’t it? Few people could tell you what it means. And “Agile Governance” sounds, well, just wrong. A classic oxymoron.


Governance” in its broadest sense means “to steer” (from the Greek: kubernáo).

Corporate Governance” generally refers to the set of processes, customs, policies, laws and institutions through which people direct, administer, control and “steer” a corporation.

Information Technology (IT) Governance” generally refers to the connections between business focus and IT management. The espoused purpose of IT Governance is to assure the business’s investment in IT generates business value and to mitigate the risks that are associated with IT projects.

Agile Governance“, then, on the surface at least, means assuring the business’s investment in IT generates business value, and mitigating the risks that are commonly associated with Agile ways of working.

A Slam Dunk

So that’s a lot of what Agile’s about anyways, isn’t it? Making sure projects generate business value, especially early and often, and mitigating the risks associated with e.g. software development? So if we do Agile “properly” (I mean, in accordance with its principles, rather than just “by the book”), we’re pretty much home and dry, aren’t we?

Five Ways

Home and dry? Pretty much.

Agile Governance might sound like a lemon – but as the old saying goes

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

~ Elbert Hubbard

There are some things we can choose to focus on which makes our “Agile Governance” more fun – and more effective, too:

  1. Focus on value.
    I see many developers and teams get a kick out of delivering things to customers – things that those customers really prize. Making their lives easier, taking aways some pain, saving some time or effort, reducing mistakes. That kind of thing. Even better, focus on needs. Then we don’t have to guess what “valuable” things actually meet folks’ needs. Less wasted effort – a.k.a. doing what’s actually needed – can be a source of fun, too – at least in a less-daily-crap kind of way. Using hypotheses in lieu of “requirements” can also help here.

  2. Share in the common purpose.
    It’d be nice even to know what the business sees as the purpose of the company. Better yet – and fun for some – is being involved in elaborating and evolving that common purpose. Folks like a say in WHY they’re doing something.

  3. Be in charge of the way your own work works.
    Nobody enjoys being micro-managed. Who knows better just how to do some specific task than the person – or people – doing it? That’s much more fun than being told. Explain to those who would rule over you how being able to do it your way makes for more fun all round. And more productivity too, by-the-by.

  4. Get good at stuff.
    Doing stuff gets to be less and less fun after you’ve done the same stuff a couple of times. But getting better at doing stuff, learning more about how to do stuff and improving one’s own capabilities, skills and know-how. That’s fun for most people. Find ways to build time into the schedule to practices, learn and reflect – both individually, and with others.

  5. Get to make a difference.
    Developers and the like can get an unimaginable (to others) amount of satisfaction (a.k.a. joy, fun) out of feeling that they’re making a real difference. Having folks recognise this difference-making on a regular basis – maybe via celebrations, ceremonies, cake, or even a regular simple expression of thanks – can be incredibly uplifting.

Governance being fun? That seems an oxymoron in itself. But apply these five ways, and you’ll find it’s much more fun than you might have thought.

– Bob

What’s A Manager To Do?


Following on from my previous post, Six FAQs from managers in knowledge-work organisations, I thought I’d explore some options managers do have for making work work better.

The Number One Rule

We can’t change people, and trying to do so will only ever have negative outcomes.

The Number Two Rule

We can’t change people, but we can change things such that people’s behaviours may change.

The Number Three Rule

Folks see through all attempts to change things simply to manipulate them and their behaviours.


So where does that leave us, when we see behaviours we regard as unhelpful, dysfunctional or otherwise undesirable? Stand by and let the human dynamics play out? Or find some viable options which don’t involve trying to change other people?

Here’s some options I’ve found useful over the years, and which you might like to consider:

Change Yourself: We can’t ever change other people; we can only change how we respond to them. By changing our responses, we can model the kinds of behaviours we’d like to see in others. “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Some folks will pick up on this, particularly in the typical hierarchical organisation, where folks watch the behaviours of their higher-ups intently and constantly for behavioural cues.

Change the way the work works: Change the way the work works (the system) and behaviour change comes for free. Mindful of the Number Three Rule, you might like to consider the consequences of involving people (i.e. the workforce) in deciding how the work works, what to change and what to change to.

Change the environment: Change the physical environment (office layout, office spaces, furniture, seating arrangements, etc.). Change the places work is done. Change the hours. Change the nature of the social – and employment – contract. Change the tools. Again mindful of the Number Three Rule, you might like to consider the consequences of involving people in deciding how they’d like their environment(s) – in the broadest sense, as describe here – to be.

Explore folks’ theories of change: Everyone has different assumptions about how change happens, what’s possible, what works and what doesn’t, how people respond to change, how to effect change, and so on. Most times, these assumptions go unexplored and untested. Consequently, finding a consensus on how to change, a consensus which folks can share and buy into, rarely happens.

Change the facts: No, not a plea for fake news – but you can gather data where none existed before. Share data. Make things visible. Give people information – and support them in collecting their own –  where there has been little or none before. Choose which facts to focus on.

Make refusable requests: Explain how you’re feeling, the needs you have driving those feeling, and simply ask people to behave differently – in specific ways. This can, of course, be difficult in relationships with an imbalance of power, where requests, however enlightened and refusable, can be taken as coercion.

Suspend Judgement: Refrain from moralistically judging people and thereby wishing they would behave differently. Yes, maybe things would be better for all concerned if a certain person behaved differently in certain situations, but that doesn’t make that certain person a bad person.

Change the nature of your relationships: Do you use e.g. Fear, Obligation, Guilt and Shame to coerce or otherwise attempt to control people into behaving in ways you regard as “appropriate”? Maybe if you found other ways of relating to people, things might be different?

Even though you can’t change people, these and other options do exist, and can help bring about the changes you seek. Are you willing to be open and honest about those – both with others and with yourself?

– Bob

Further Reading

Culture Change Is Free ~ John Seddon
Tiny Wisdom: The Relationships We Wish Would Improve ~ Lori Deschene
What You Can Change And What You Cannot ~ Leland R. Beaumont
You Can’t Change Others: Letting People Be ~ Lauren Suval


Six FAQs

Questions I’m frequently asked about software and product development organisations.

Q1: How can we motivate our workers?

A1: You can’t. Oh, you can dream up incentive schemes, bonus packages, and so on, but there’s plenty of research – and experience – to show that such attempts at extrinsic motivation of knowledge workers only make folks’ performance on the job worse. On the other hand, intrinsic motivation is very powerful – but that comes from the workers themselves. The only thing you can do is to work on creating an environment where maybe, just maybe, some folks feel a little better about themselves, their colleagues, and the common purpose. And hope – yes hope – that some intrinsic motivation emerges, here and there. You can’t change someone else’s intrinsic motivation – only they can do that.

Q2: How can we change the organisation’s culture?

A2: You can’t. Culture is read-only. A manifestation and a reflection of the underlying, collective assumptions and beliefs of all the folks working in the organisation. To see any cultural changes, you have to work on – by which I mean work towards a wholesale replacement of – this underlying collective memeplex. And that involves working with peoples’ heads, and in particular, collective headspaces. You can’t change other people’s assumptions and beliefs – only they can do that.

Q3: How can we change the mindset of managers?

A3: You can’t. Managers – anyone, really – will only change their mindset when they see how their present mindset is ineffective at getting their needs – and the needs of others – met. Change (of mindset) is a normative process – it emerges from direct personal experiences of e.g. the way the work works now – and the problems inherent therein. You can’t change someone else’s mindset – only they can do that.

Q4: How can we get teams to take responsibility?

A4: You can’t. You can threaten, cajole, plead, bribe, appeal to folks’ better nature, etc. But again, research and experience both show these only serve to undermine folks’ goodwill and commitment. If you need folks to take more responsibility, maybe the best way is to just be honest about that, explain your need, and make a refusable request? What would you like the reason to be for them doing as you request? You can’t change someone else’s willingness to take responsibility – only they can do that.

Q5: How can we get managers to trust their teams?

A5: You can’t. Managers will only choose to trust their teams – or anyone else – if they find they have a need to do so. And that need only becomes obvious enough to spur action when managers come to understand just how trust helps them get some of their other needs met better. You can’t change someone else’s willingness to trust others – only they can do that.

Q6: How can we develop people’s competencies?

A6: You can’t. You can, however, create conditions where those folks who want to develop their own competencies can do so more easily. So the question then becomes, how can we get folks to want to develop their own competencies? Which is Q1 (see above). You can’t change someone else’s willingness to learn – only they can do that.

In a nutshell, the direct answer to all the above questions is: you can’t. But you can do one thing to make progress on all these questions: consider the Antimatter Principle.

Are you willing to be that radical? For that is what it boils down to.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

~ Albert Einstein

– Bob

Further Reading

The Art And Science of Changing People Who Don’t Want to Change ~ Reut Schwartz-Hebron

A Faster Workstation


Like many things, the Antimatter Principle appears easy to understand, and, to me, even easier to misunderstand.

What could be easier as a coherent and comprehensive set of guiding principles than “attend to folks’ needs”, right?

And as a starting point, seeing folks actively engaged in attending to folks’ needs, any needs, makes my happy.

Digging Deeper

One of my needs is to help folks realise more and more of their innate potential – to use the old cliche “to become all that they can be”. And so I’m happy when seeing folks getting progressively more and more out of the Antimatter Principle.

As an example, consider this scenario:

Scenario 1a

A developer says “I need a faster workstation”. Sounds very straightforward. In many cases this might trigger defensiveness and/or analysis on behalf of the person who has to write and/or sign the purchase order. Setting aside this can of worms for the moment, let’s suppose we can get past this and the developer gets their new, faster workstation. Joy! Of a sort.

Let’s run through this scenario again. But this time we’ll take just a little more time and effort in the hope of maybe uncovering some deeper needs.

Scenario 1b

A developer says “I need a faster workstation”. Someone hearing this – at least, someone who is tuned-in to attending to folks’ needs – might respond with a question like “I guess you’re feeling stressed about not getting stuff done?” (NB Empathising).

Let’s follow a possible evolution of this dialogue:

“Sure am”.

“How’s your workstation for speed at the moment?”

“Well, I’m working on a Clojure module and the REPL startup times are interrupting my train of thought.” (Observation)

“I could get much more done if my workstation was faster.”

“So, how do you feel about that?”

“Quite frustrated, actually. I know folks are waiting on this module, and I feel like I’m letting them down.” (Feelings)

“Sounds like you have a need that’s not getting met?

“Yes. I guess I have a need to be seen as reliable and diligent and competent, and sharing in the customer-focus values of my team.” (Needs)

“So, needs for appreciation and belonging?”

“Yes. Sounds plausible.”

“I’ll go and ask Leslie about getting a new workstation and see what’s possible.” (Refusable request)

Let’s assume the basic outcome remains the same – our developer gets their new, faster workstation.

In this case, they’re still likely to find joy in being able to work faster, or more productively, or whatever. But it’s also possible that they might find much more joy in the situation, realising via the earlier dialogue that their needs for appreciation and belonging are what’s really better in their life. Not to mention the joy accruing to the person who helped them through the dialogue.

How do you feel about this? Does the explanation meet any of your needs?

– Bob

Further Reading

Words That Work In Business ~ Ike K. Lasater

Antimatter Workshops

No, this post is not about workshops on the topic of the Antimatter Principle – although I’m happy to discuss with you the possibility of conducting one with your team, group, or company.

And it’s definitely not about workshops on the topic of Antimatter.

This post is about using the Antimatter Principle to create better workshops – on any topic.

I’ve been to more than my fair share of workshops and the like over the years, and I’ve never been to one that was worth even the time it required to attend, let alone the cost in terms of hard cash. No, wait. Let me restate. I’ve never been to a workshop that was worth the time for the learnings it provided. I have been to many workshops where the social dimension – getting to meet people, doing things in concert, sharing a common interest, etc. – has been wonderful.

I don’t think it’s just me, either.

Aside: This post is about workshops, that is, events where groups of people come together, bounded by time, space and subject matter, ostensibly to learn together by doing. I contrast this with “training”, where the doing element is mostly conspicuous by its absence. I have no enthusiasm at all for the idea of training per se.

Workshops, at least, I feel may be redeemable as learning events, albeit with some major overhaul of the basic framework.

Here’s some of the problems I have with workshops as they currently exist:

  • The expert
    Most workshops get led by a subject matter or domain expert, eager to share their knowledge and experience.
  • The agenda
    Most workshops follow an agenda laid down by the “facilitating” expert. This (detailed) agenda is derived from the broader agenda of the sponsor. For in-house workshops this generally means a senior manager. For public workshops this generally means the expert, or the organisation for which he or she is working.
  • Passive engagement (i.e. little to no engagement)
    Many folks attend workshops with little interest in the subject and little enthusiasm for being there. The reasons for this are various but can include being told to attend, having spare training or professional development budget, and wanting to accrue CPD credits.

All the above lead to workshops having a low correlation between the needs of the participants and the content of the workshop. And to outcomes which fall short of expectations, and way short of what might be possible, given a different approach.

What is a Better Workshop?

For me, as a facilitator, a better kind of workshop would be one where folks had a real opportunity to meet their own individual and collective needs, be that for learning, for social interaction, or for other things.

And for me as an attendee, much the same criteria seem relevant too.

Applying the Antimatter Principle

So, to the application of the principle:

“Attend to folks’ needs.”


Firstly, do the prospective attendees have needs which correlate with the headline subject matter / topic? If not, maybe it’s better those folks don’t attend.

Then, there the agenda itself: Does it include a list of expected “learning outcomes”? Maybe it’s better not to do that. At least, unless the prospective attendees have created the list themselves prior to the event. And in those cases where this prior work is problematic, maybe it’s better to defer creation of the list until the event itself.

Yes, I suspect many people would prefer to have someone else set the agenda, structure the workshop, list the outcomes. And yes, it’s harder to sell workshops absent an outline, agenda or list of expected outcomes.

I do wonder if better workshops that no one gets to attend are any kind of improvement over what we have already. Maybe you’d be willing to share to view on this dilemma?

– Bob

Further Reading

Conferences That Work ~ Adrian Segar
Training From the Back of the Room! ~ Sharon L. Bowman


Seven Changes To Improve Flow In Your Software Development Process

Many folks drinking the Lean coolade seem to believe that removing waste is at the heart of the Lean approach. I beg to differ. I’d say that improving flow is the heart of Lean.

Here’s seven ways in which your team or, preferably, your organisation as a whole, might go about improving flow:

  1. Adopt a small thing as the universal unit of work. And by universal, I mean some unit of work that everyone across the whole organisation can recognise and adopt. This could be Use Cases, User Stories, or something else. Just keep the “small thing” small (never more than a couple of days work for a couple of people). cf Heijunka, FlowChain.
  2. Make flow visible. In particular, make e.g. queues, queuing times, and end-to-end cycles times visible for all to see.
  3. Know your WIP (work in progress) and work to reduce (limit) it. Cf. Little’s Law.
  4. Use demand to “pull” units of work through the system (as opposed to “pushing” work through).
  5. Eliminate – or at least minimise – hand-offs. That is, having work pass from one specialist to another. Each hand-off typically introduces another queue, with the inevitable costs and delays. One way to do this involves multi-disciplinary teams, or better still, up-skilling individuals so each person can competently take on a variety of specialist tasks.
  6. Identify the goal; understand demand (by various means – for example follow individual “demands” through the system, end-to-end;) identify the constraint; and apply the Five Focussing Steps (repeatedly). Cf. Theory of Constraints
  7. Experiment continually: trial possible improvements to flow, one by one, to assess their actual efficacy, in isolation from one another. Cf. PDCA a.k.a. the Shewhart Cycle.

And of course, none of the above suggestions will do much good, or even get acted on, unless and until the folks doing the work internalise a basic appreciation of the very notion of flow. And that’s unlikely to happen unless and until the work environment supports and nurtures folks’ curiosity and innate desire to do a good job.

Further Reading

The Principles of Product Development Flow ~ Donald G. Reinertsen
Seven Changes To Remove Waste From Your Software Development Process ~ Cecil Dijoux
Product Development Flow ~ FlowchainSensei
LondonCD Talk based on this post ~ Video
Getting People to Limit Their Work In Progress ~ Ben Linders

Antimatter Standup

Many aspirationally Agile teams adopt a daily ritual called the “standup”. At each such event, typically lasting some ten to fifteen minutes, each person in the team, in turn, gets to answer three basic questions:

  • “What did I accomplish yesterday?”
  • “What will I do today?”
  • “What obstacles are impeding my progress?”

Teams that make it past the aspirationally agile stage, sooner or later come to regard this ritual as trite, mechanical, and adding little value to their efforts.

As an example of how the Antimatter Principle can bring more joy – and thus, more effectiveness – into various aspects of software development practices, here’s an outline of applying the principle to the daily standup.


Each person might choose to begin their part by expressing empathy for someone in the standup, for themselves (very important, from time to time), for some other stakeholder not present, for the team itself, for the work, or for the outcome.


“I’d like Josh to know I’m here for him this week.”

“It’s a tough sprint, but I’m still all-in.”

The Basic Four Steps

Following on from empathy, each person then has the option to run through the four steps of Nonviolent Communication and call to mind, and answer, four questions:

“What did I hear, see yesterday that was of note?”
“How did I feel about that?”
“What needs (of mine, of others) were, are not getting met?”
“What refusable requests might I make of those here (including myself) right now?”


And maybe then reflect on context:

“What needs of mine, other folks were met yesterday?”
“What needs of mine, other folks will I be attending to today?”
“What do I need?”

There are several needs to which a daily stand-up meeting might choose to attend:

  • To help start the day on a positive note.
  • To align folks’ attention on the immediately most important stuff of the moment.
  • To bring folks’ needs to mind.
  • To attend to the needs of the team-as-a-collective-entity.
  • To communicate what is going on.

As a mnemonic device, think of PANTS:
Positive start, Alignment, Needs, Team, Status

Of course, if these are not the need of the folks, in the moment, then maybe a daily standup is not the most effective means by which to attend to them.

If you’re needing to find more joy in work, to have a more effective standup, or just want to experience the Antimatter Principle in action, would you be willing to conduct an experiment with this approach?

– Bob

Further Reading

The Empathy Exercise – New England NVC Group

Principles WTF

“Hey. Why don’t we write down some principles?”
“Why not. It might help.”
“Help who? With what?”
I regularly see folks, in what I assume is their eagerness to help and communicate, invest what can amount to considerable time and effort in discussing and, moreover, writing down sets of principles, manifestos, and the like.
This all without asking:
“Who needs us to write down some principles?”
“What do they need them for?”
“How will they actually get used?”
“How will we know if they’ve been of any use in e.g. meeting folks’ needs?”
“Could we spend the time and effort on doing something else more useful?”
– Bob

17 Ways To Piss Off New Hires Before They Even Start


I’ve hired a lot of folks in my time, and been through quite a few hiring experiences too. I’m always amazed that hiring organisations seem utterly oblivious to the tone they set for their relationship with new employees – even before they make the job offer.

Here’s a list of some seventeen ways I’ve seen organisations piss off their new hires even before those folks turn up for their first day:

17. Give the impression that mistakes are not tolerated in your organisation.

In particular, make it clear to candidates that hiring mistakes are career-limiting, and you and your organisation take great pains to avoid such mistakes. From this, candidates can easily infer what to expect when they actually start work.

What to do instead: Convey your willingness to take risks, and attribute that to encouragement from the organisation, rather than to any personal heroism. In particular, express the organisation’s willingness to stick it’s neck out for what it believes might be good hires, even when not at all obvious.
See also : Make Bad Hires

16. Make sure your communications are garbled through one or more intermediaries.

When little hiccups happen, make sure the explanation is garbled to the extent that any fair-minded person might interpret it as ineptitude, or even better, mendacity. This can go a long way to setting the tenor of all subsequent interactions with a candidate.

What to do instead: Communicate clearly to intermediaries that they are NOT expected to sugar-coat or otherwise alter the messages they relay from either party. Ensure all communications are available for inspection by all parties. In particular, don’t communicate by phone, and follow up face-to-face conversations with a written summary of what was said.

15. Talk exclusively about the current situation.

Assess candidates on the present needs of the organisation – after all, things aren’t going to change at all, are they?

“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

~ Wayne Gretzky

What to do instead: Focus on the future. Any useful candidate will be looking to build a future with your organisation. Talk about how things are likely to evolve, and the challenges everyone will face coping with that. Explore how the candidate’s mindset, talents, skills and abilities will be useful in that possible future.

14. Appear uncertain as to why you’re hiring for this position.

If you know the value-add of the position, refrain from mentioning it. Better yet, talk with candidate from a position of genuine ignorance.

What to do instead: Realise that candidates would prefer being given “a good job to do” – i.e. one where the value-add of the position is clear and achievable. Go out of your way to gain an understanding of how filling this opening contributes to the goals of the organisation. And then communicate that. Better still, explore the value-adding possibilities jointly with the candidate.

13. Give candidates cause to believe you and/or your organisation are not serious players.

Don’t make any mention of established know-how, or initiatives to make things better. Skip over topics such as personal development, morale, continuous improvement, and such like. Never mention the “giants” in your industry (e.g. in software don’t mention folks like Deming, Ackoff, Seddon, et al.) and feign ignorance of bodies of knowledge relevant to your industry (e.g. Coaching, Team-building, Scrum, Kanban, Lean, TPDS, etc.). Gain bonus points by appearing oblivious to management-related bodies of knowledge too (cf. Buckingham/Gallup, Drucker, Deming (again), Hamel, Google, etc.)

What to do instead. Briefly touch on the bodies of knowledge the organisation has taken on board, and make a few mentions of specific cases of how the way the work works has been influenced by these bodies of knowledge.

12. Imply candidates will stand a better chance of getting the job if they lie.

Candidates who want the job will says what they think you want to hear. They will “creatively” tailor their CV or resume to the job specification if they believe that will improve their chances of getting hired. Never make this implication explicit! It, like so many of the assumptions and unwritten laws governing hiring, are undiscussable.

What to do instead: Act with integrity. Folks can recognise that, as they can a lack of integrity, dishonesty, and dissembling.

11. Keep asking them to come back time and again.

Make it seem like you couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. Fail to line up in one session all the folks who the candidate will need to meet. Have them come back three, four, five times just to see another face who, most often, will make it clear through their demeanour and body-language that they were not so interested in meeting the candidate anyway.

What to do instead: Arrange all meetings, conversations, etc. for the same visit. Realise that more meetings and conversations add little to the validity of hiring decisions, and can give candidates the impression the organisation is risk-averse (see point 17. above).

10. Make the hiring decision appear arbitrary.

Make it clear to the candidate that it’s your decision who gets hired, and you have certain opinions which any candidate must match up to. After all, you’re in charge of your little piece of the organisation, and hiring folks on the basis of what’s good for the organisation just wouldn’t do at all.

What to do instead: Explain the criteria the whole organisation uses to assess candidates, and the special exceptions you (or the hiring manager or group) make to those general criteria.

9. Use formal interviews.

Don’t fall for all that scientific malarkey which shows how fallible humans are at e.g. making hiring decisions, and the research which highlights the universally poor results obtained through any formal interview process.

What to do instead: Skip directly to having likely candidates come in and do real work with real people, to gauge their fit. Pay them for this – and pay them to leave if they feel they don’t fit in.

8. Have an insane amount of paperwork.

Make sure that there’s a mountain of paperwork for each candidate to fill in. Make sure as much of it as possible is obviously unnecessary. After all, candidates would like to realise that 80% of their time is being wasted even before they start the job – just as it will be after – wouldn’t they? And stress them out even before the job starts with worries about their references, etc. being good enough.

What to do instead: Work with e.g. HR to ruthlessly prune the prerequisites for candidates down to a bare minimum. Provide them with a third-party service, similar to a concierge or such, to do the lion’s share of that bare minimum. Make it policy that no candidate may start before these prerequisites are completed. Place a time limit on how long such work can take – with a “free pass” after the cutoff.

7. Appear inept.

Look as if you’ve never interviewed before. Have a list of “typical interview questions” that sound like you found them online. Give the impression that you and your organisation are doing the candidate a great favour by even deigning to speak with them.

What to do instead: If you really have never interviewed before, admit to it. See if the candidate can help. If you do have some prior experience, appear to have learned from it.

6. Fail to understand or explore the candidate’s value-add.

Candidates are ten-a-penny these days. You’ve got a slot to fill, and you need a warm brain to fill it. Simples. No one is going to criticise you for not getting the best out of the folks you hire – at least, not if you appear to drive them hard.

What to do instead: Just about everybody wants to do a good job. Which means just about every candidate has put a deal of effort into developing their skills, learning things, and making the most of their talents. And they’d really, really like to apply as much of that as possible to the benefit of your organisation. So explore what they can do, and more importantly what they could do, given sufficient support and encouragement.

5. Don’t prep. Don’t help the candidate to prep.

If your interactions with a few of the candidates go awry through your being unprepared, well, who’s ever going to find out?  And if a candidate objects, well they’re obviously not of the right stuff, are they? And hiring is a bit like school, isn’t it? “Sit still. Don’t talk. Do you own work. Don’t copy.” So don’t help them to be best prepared, either. After all, if they’re really interested they’ll spend days of their own time doing their own preparation, won’t they? Besides, it’s a good introduction to what working here is really like. Best be honest, eh?

What to do instead: Show that you and your organisation respect people by being obviously prepared for each candidate. Not just having a prepared list of questions or check-list, but being prepared for each individual candidate, like they were a human being or something. And help each candidate present themselves in the best possible light by helping them prepare, even before meeting you and others.

4. Exclude the CEO.

God forbid your higher-ups taking any kind of interest in who you hire. That could be career-threatening. Better by far to keep all hiring activity to yourself. What possible benefits could there be to either the candidates or the organisation in being open about these things?

What to do instead: Invite your CEO to spend a couple of minutes, one-to-one and in private, with each near-hire candidate. See “The Four Obsession Of An Extraordinary Executive” for a passle of reasons why this might be a good idea.

3. Involve HR.

You’ll need someone to blame if things don’t work out. HR makes the perfect patsy, so get them involved as early as possible, and make sure they have a real say in the hiring decision – and not just as administrative support.

What to do instead: Make use of HR as administrative support, to ensure all the ‘I’s are dotted and ‘T’s crossed, but for God’s sake keep them away from hiring decisions, and from the candidates.

2. Don’t involve others such as potential colleagues and peers.

Show your cojones by appearing to take all the risks of the hiring decision upon yourself (but see also point 3.) Real managers don’t work via consensus, in any case. And the successful candidate is going to be your boy (or girl), aren’t they? Why would they need or want to meet anyone else before joining?

What to do instead: Solicit the opinions of some or all of the other folks involved. Have them meet the candidates for a chinwag over a beer or a pizza.

1. Ignore the candidate’s blog, twitter feed, LinkedIn profile, etc.

Social media? Pah! What possible use could that be? Besides, you’re busy – too busy to read all the lame stuff that candidates have been writing. Much better to ignore their paltry attempts to present themselves, their value-adds, their ideas and their personalities. Your innate talent to gauge an individual’s merit needs no supporting information. Besides, the best candidates are insular, uninformed, anti-social, inarticulate, unopinionated and easily influenced, aren’t they?

What to do instead: See if each candidate has a blog. Read a few posts which catch your interest and discuss them during your face to face conversation(s). Dip into their Twitter stream, if they have one, to get a feel for their personality, sociability and standing in their professional communities. Check out their LinkedIn and GitHub profiles and community contributions. And invite others in your organisation, that may also meet candidates, to do the same.

Of course, there are dozens more ways you can piss off folks once they have joined, but here we’re just talking about before that first fateful day. Why not use some or all of the above tricks to sour the budding relationship and set folks up to fail from the very outset? Millions of companies can’t be wrong!

“Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.”

~ Peter Drucker

Did I miss any ways that have pissed you off?

– Bob

Afterword [8 Oct 2021]: The most significant point, and not listed above, may be to share with the candidate that their contribution, however awesome, will only account for some five percent of their productivity.

0. Ignore the role of the system (the way the work works)

Make it plain to the candidate that result are entirely on them. Their commitment, passion, skills and effort is what really matters, and will be the basis upon which they’ll be judged.

What to do instead. Explain you view – and the organisation’s view – on Deming’s 95:5. Elaborate on the system in place, the way the work works in the team or department they’ll be joining, and who owns the several aspects of the way the work works. Make It plain as to the basis upon which their personal contribution will be judged.

Further Reading

Eight Hiring Mistakes Employers Make: From Application to Interview ~ Susan M. Heathfield


After a protracted series of interviews and aborted interviews, I was recently offered a three month contract in London with an organisation professing much in the way of becoming Agile. Despite some number of reservations, I had decided to give it a go. Imagine my reaction, then, when this email turned up…


[Preamble – redacted]

Here are the documents we need returned. The ID and Proof of Address must be verified by a professional (preferably your solicitor) who has known you for more than 2 years with their full name, occupation, dated and signed.

· Verified copy of ID (passport, photo driving licence etc) Please have the front cover, first page and photo page verified – each with a statement saying ‘Certified to be a true copy of the original seen by me’. If you choose the driving licence we need both the photo card and counterpart verified.

· Verified copy of Proof of Address – Issued within the last 3 months (1 of the following: Utility bill, bank statement or similar from home address) – Please state ‘Certified to be a true copy of the original seen by me’.

· Criminal Declaration Form (Signed)

· Confidentiality and conflict of interest form (Signed)

· Declaration of Interest Form (Signed)

· Basic Disclosure Scotland Check – – Please apply ASAP and let me know the reference number

· References- A full 3 years work references are required. If only one role has been worked over the 3 year period then a personal reference will be required also. If a limited company has worked many assignments then an accountant’s reference specifying that between two dates work was solidly carried out on various assignments would be acceptable but as that would only count as one reference, a personal reference would be required as well.

· Gaps in work- Any gaps of more than 28 days in the last 10 years need explaining by evidencing what happened during that time. A personal reference specifying the dates is required, if this is not possible then other evidence would be considered i.e. receipts etc.

· CV containing previous 10 years employment/education history with no gaps

· Tax Assurance Forms (Signed)

Ltd Company documents – if you don’t have them:
Certificate of Incorporation
VAT Registration Certificate
Professional Indemnity Insurance – Minimum of £1m
Public Liability Insurance – Minimum of £1m
Employers Liability Insurance – Minimum of £5m

Government guidelines on Certifying documents:

To certify documents, ask a professional person or someone well-respected in your community (‘of good standing’) like a:
· bank or building society official
· councillor
· dentist
· police officer
· solicitor
· teacher or lecturer
The person you ask shouldn’t be:

· related to you
· living at the same address
· in a relationship with you
Check with the organisation that needs the certified copy – they may have specific rules for who can certify a document.
How to certify a document
Take the photocopied document and the original and ask the person to certify the copy by:

· writing ‘Certified to be a true copy of the original seen by me’ on the document
· signing and dating it
· printing their name under the signature
· adding their occupation, address and telephone number
The person certifying the document may charge you a fee.

[Post-amble – redacted]


This was, of course, the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Needless to say, I have declined to be a party to this madness.

“If the company looks inept to you, you might assume everything else they do is inept.”

~ Daniel Kahneman

I have a forlorn hope that my “protest” might provide someone with some argument to oppose the policy.

Never mind. Onward and upward! 🙂

“There’s no shortage of talent – only a shortage of organisations that talent wants to work for.”

– Bob

Further Reading

No More Stupid Punts ~ FlowchainSensei

Antimatter Story


Part 1 – Arrival

Johnny stood on the steps of the building, watching the cab as it threaded its smooth, servo-moderated way back into the stream of traffic headed in the direction of the city centre. As it became indistinct, he turned, paused for the door to open for him, and walked into the building.

He followed the lights under the floor as they blinked in sequence, highlighting his path. At the elevator, he walked through the opening doors and stood as the car ascended to the seventh floor.

The car came to a halt, and Johnny again followed the marching lights for a few paces until he rounded a corner. There he saw the folks sat in twos and threes, chatting, and occasionally looking at one of the numerous displays.

“Hey, Johnny!”

“Hi. Anna, is it?” Johnny was not so good at remembering names. And he’d not wanted to walk in with his face recognition app running. He’d felt that would have looked a bit… gauche.

“Yup. You remember Celia and Steve?” Anna indicated the other two people sitting with her.
“Oh. Not Steve. He wasn’t here last time you came, was he?” She corrected herself.

“Hi.” smiled both Celia and Steve in his direction.

“Hi there” replied Johnny.

Anna motioned to a free space on one of the sofas. “We’re just playing about with the authentication bot. Want to sit in?”

“Sure.” Johnny put his bag down beside the sofa, out of everyone’s way, and sat down where he could best see one of the displays.

“Rachel – she’s from IndArc – will be in later. We’d like to have something for her to show to her folks, by the time she arrives.”

Celia tapped something into her keyboard. The displays changed and all four of them turned to one or other of them see the new image.

“Ok. Here’s where Cindy can ask for access.” They began discussing how the thing worked, and what was left for them to do before Rachel turned up.

Part 2


Tea Lady

Tea lady




“We give advice, but we cannot give the wisdom to profit by it.”

~ Francois de La Rochefoucauld


I generally “bump” into topics for this blog. Or they bump into me. Either way, I’m happy to follow the path that serendipity chooses for me.

Today I’ve bumped into some thoughts about experts and expertise.

For some reason, folks seem drawn to the expert, and compelled to seek their wisdom. I observe many folks regularly seeking advice in the earnest belief that they will act on and benefit from such advice. Which, of course, almost never happens.

“Hakuin used to tell his pupils about an old woman who had a teashop, and praising her understanding of Zen. The pupils refused to believe what he told them and would go to the teashop to find out for themselves.

Whenever the woman saw them coming she could tell at once whether they had come for tea or to look into her grasp of Zen. In the former case, she would server them graciously. In the latter, she would beckon to the pupils to come behind her screen. The instant they obeyed, she would strike them with a fire-poker.

Nine out of ten of them could not escape her beating.”

~ A Zen Koan

I often find myself being seen by clients as some kind of expert. This generally bothers me greatly. For one thing I’ve seen the harm that can come from folks delegating their thinking to so-called experts. Yes, it can be comforting to have someone else do your thinking for you – God knows, thinking is hard. And there’s the added comfort of having someone lined-up to take the blame if, later, that thinking turns out to be flawed.

And then there’s the additional energy I find myself putting into guarding against my natural inclination towards trying to help through giving advice – even when in my heart I believe that any giving of advice is not in my clients’ best interests. I find it particularly difficult when folks ask directly for advice. Then, it can seem so churlish to demur, so patronising to launch into some more or less convoluted semi-dialogue about the perils of advice-giving. And so dissonant to advise on the perils of advice-seeking.

“The ONLY learning which significantly influences behaviour is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.”

~ Carl Rogers

Feeding the ego troll also bothers me. I find it flattering when folks look up to me in some way – for my knowledge or experience or insights or whatever. Flattering, and rewarding, in that it meets my need to feel that I’m helping, making a positive difference for them. Bothersome, then, to feel each time it happens, that this is an illusion. For even slight reflection leads me to sense that by being recognised as an expert, I’m helping less, and making less of a difference, than could otherwise be the case. Approbation tastes sooooo sweet, yet simultaneously feels so bitter.

I’m hoping some current and future clients might get to read this. If for no other reason than it might provide an insight into just one of the many struggles that their therapist is also going through. And thus, perhaps, offer some opportunity for fellow-feeling, even empathy.

We’re all human after all.

“This man beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self.”

~ Ian MacLaren

I’d love to hear about your feelings on the subject.

– Bob

Attending to Needs is All We Need

You may be thinking that “attend to folks’ needs” is some moral crusade. Or some naive admonition to be more humane. I had neither of these things in mind when proposing the Antimatter Principle.

Rather,  the Antimatter Principle addresses the question of:

“How to encourage the emergence of a workplace in which people might feel warmly invited to give of their best, and find much joy in the simple act of working together, in the company of fellows.”

This seems like a question of almost universal relevance, these days.

The core principle is derived from more than twenty years of my personal experience in its application, and from the stories of hundreds if not thousands of people practicing and sharing their experiences with Nonviolent Communication.

By way of illustration, this post takes the eleven principles from my previous post, and explains – using only the first principle as core – how all the other ten are simply derivatives. Here’s the eleven principles from that post:

GDS Design Principles – Improved

  1. Attend to folks’ needs
  2. Do what’s needed – more more, no less
  3. Continually Evolve The Service with Quick Feedback and Iterations
  4. Make It Optional
  5. Flow
  6. Build for Inclusion
  7. Understand Context
  8. Build Services, not Digital Services
  9. Derive Consistency From Need
  10. Make Things Open
  11. Build Improvement Into the Way the Work Works

Underlying Needs

  1. [Core principle.]
  2. This principle speaks to some folks’ needs to meet folks’ needs, fully but not excessively. Underlying this may be a whole host of deeper needs: for kudos, job security, advancement, status, self-worth, promotion, peer acclaim, respect, community, and so on.
  3. This principle speaks to some folks’ needs to avoid both rework and the delivery of unneeded features, etc..
  4. This principle speaks to the needs of e.g. digitally-excluded folks to have access to government services, and the needs of some folks to cater to this group.
  5. This speaks to some folks’ need to do the best job that they can – i.e. to apply learnings from seeing a service running live, with real users. Maybe there are other folks who need to demonstrate their competence in delivering ever-improving services.
  6. This speaks to some folks’ need for justice – or maybe to be seen to care about the disadvantaged.
  7. Not too sure about which needs are driving this one. Maybe it’s UX folks with a need to produce good work (i.e. services with relevant features). Maybe it’s higher-ups, who need to be able to cite positive acclaim and kudos from users.
  8. This speaks to some folks’ need to demonstrate that they are competent at providing/building/implementing/running high-quality (digital) services for citizens, and, more fundamentally, the need for job security and status/promotion/peer acclaim/respect.
  9. This speaks to some folks’ needs for e.g. easy allocation of staff to projects, easy transfer of staff between projects, and maybe, more fundamentally, their need to be seen as competent, cost-conscious and “responsible”. (Whether consistency is an effective strategy for meeting these particular needs bears more examination, I feel).
  10. Maybe this principle speaks to some folks’ need to give to the world. To make a difference. To some folks’ need for peer-recognition. And to some folks’ need to be the best they can be – by e.g. learning from feedback on their code, designs, architecture, etc.. Maybe, also, it addresses some folks’ need to feel belonging (to e.g. the wider Open Source and/or Software Craftsmanship communities).
  11. This, being the principle I myself added, speaks to my need to see an organisation improving its effectiveness, and thereby to see folks spending more time on – and finding more joy in – doing things they love, and less time on things which bring little or no joy to them. Maybe some other folks also share this particular need.

With the above descriptions, I’m pretty much making (informed) guesses about the needs driving the aforementioned principles. And I’m sure many other needs, not mentioned here, have shaped the evolution of those principles. Without a record of the original needs and stakeholders, it’s difficult to know how close these guesses come, and whether folks’ needs have changed materially since these principles were declared.

A question in my mind remains: how much value is there in articulating these principles? Or could an articulation of the underlying needs – and constituencies – afford more value? Put another way, what and whose needs are being served by articulating these principles? And could those needs be attended-to by more effective means?

– Bob

Further Reading

Needs Inventory ~ The Center For Nonviolent Communication

GDS Design Principles – Improved

I like the UK Government Digital Service Design Principles. For a government organisation, GDS show some progressive thinking and their design principles come close to principles to which I could subscribe. Close, but no cigar.

Here’s my suggestions for principles which I could wholeheartedly embrace:

  1. Attend to folks’ needs.
    This improvement seems close to “start with needs”. But why just start? Sounds a bit waterfall-ish to me.

    “Before we begin any project we spend a long time working out what the user needs are.”

    Do people have needs just at the outset of an endeavour? Maybe they mean “Always give priority to (users’) needs.” If so, why not make it clear?

    Why only users’ needs? That seems like missing the fundamental opportunity to build an environment in which (GDS) folks can choose to give of their best.

    And “start with needs” seems to imply design is a linear process, rather than – as I see it – one of evolution, emergence, and continual learning/discovery.

  2. Do what’s needed – more more, no less.
    Sometimes, less is more. Sometimes it’s not. If we do what’s needed, and no more, then we’ve done the minimum. Focussing on “doing what’s needed” – taking into account all constituencies and needs – seems better than “doing the most good” (whose good?). And let’s not get hung up on the minutiae of “minimal” page design (see their example) when “minimal” effective services are the aim?
  3. Continually Evolve The Service with Quick Feedback and Iterations.
    OK with this one – excepting the wording “Design with Data” which may only serve to confuse, and to cut folks off from relevant pools of existing know-how, such as Lean Startup. See also my (additional) principle 11.
  4. Make It Optional.
    One of the things that really gets my goat with “Digital by Default” is that it so often means “Digital only”. I won’t go into the folly of believing that digital aka online Government Services are cheaper to provide or meet folks’ needs better, by default. Better, I suggest, to make the digital option truly optional, and follow the data to learn if the digital option is the most popular option. Let folks vote with their feet!
  5. Flow.
    “Iterate” is a bit of a duplicate of 3. This principle seems more about highlighting the idea of continual flow of value. I.E. No service has a beginning or end, but just a continual flow of ever-improving delivery of “meeting people’s needs”. “Launch” happens every day. Maybe dozens of times per day.
  6. Build for Inclusion.
    Great principle. Hard to do when Digital By Default – “The people who most need our services are often the people who find them hardest to use” (and those who least want to use a computer to access them?). Is this issue even discussable?
  7. Understand Context.
    Ditto with 6.
  8. Build Services, not Digital Services.
    Granted this is not within the purview of the Digital Teams themselves, whose raison d’etre is to build Digital Services. But I believe this can change, given the will.
  9. Derive Consistency From Needs.
    If needs are understood, and the trade-offs of consistency also understood, than it’s possible to decide when consistency is beneficial, and when it’s a drag.
  10. Make Things Open.
    Including dissent, discussion and debate – and those topics that remain undiscussable. 😉
  11. Build Improvement Into the Way the Work Works.
    Some of the original list of UK Government Digital Service Design Principles speak to improving government (digital) services as experienced by users. But I see no explicit mention of improving the way the work works. I’m sure all the smart folks in GDS are pursuing improvements to how they work, so why not recognise and honour that with its own principle? Moreover, make explicit the principle of in-band continuous improvement – to help avoid the dysfunctional anathema of e.g. change programmes, improvement teams, and so on.

– Bob

Further Reading

Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design ~ Bill Buxton


I Pledge

Two pink butterflies on a patterned pink background

As an organisational psychotherapist, I feel blessed in meeting many different people and working with them to make their workplaces more joyful and healthy.

By turns distressed, frazzled and hopeful, those seeking my help will only benefit when we have a bond of mutual trust and common purpose.

My pledge to you as an Organisational Psychotherapist:

To be worthy of your trust,

  • I pledge to hold in the strictest confidence everything that I hear, see and learn.
  • I will share as much as possible, as widely and transparently as possible, with as many people as possible, bearing in mind the need for keeping confidences.
  • I will at all times attempt to restrain my inclination for moralistic judgements.
  • I acknowledge the power of empathy, towards individuals and groups both, and place this at the foundation of my relationships and practice.
  • I will apply the same degree of effort, and the same standards, to my relationships with everyone, regardless of position, seniority, race, gender, orientation, beliefs, actions, or affiliations.
  • I pledge to allow people and groups to come to their own answers, for themselves, and in their own time.
  • I will only ever offer advice or “answers” when sorely pressed to do so, but then freely and with good grace.
  • I must always be aware that I may participate in my clients’ journeys only as a listener, friend and invited guide, choosing to believe that ultimately each and all must make their own way.
  • I will act with integrity, compassion and understanding.
  • I make no promises about outcomes, only that I will do my best – and invite others to do the same.
  • I pledge never to flatter, encourage or attempt to motivate people.
  • I will always speak my own truth, and listen attentively to others’.
  • The only loyalty I acknowledge is to the welfare and wellbeing of the people and groups with whom I come into contact (myself included).
  • I will not shy away from asking difficult or disconcerting questions when I believe it’s in folks’ best interests to do so.
  • I will show understanding and respect to those who do not wish to participate.
  • I will never knowingly attempt to influence, coerce or motivate others or myself.
  • I will try to choose my words with compassion, and with understanding for the impact they may unwittingly have, and the emotions they may trigger.
  • I will always defer to appropriate, qualified people in matters of e.g. personal and emotional issues of individuals.
  • Though I may be paid for my services, my joy derives from attending to folks’ needs, not primarily remuneration, and I will never allow payment to become more important than my desire to see folks’ needs met.
  • I will always be aware of my clients’ investment of time, money, and effort, and endeavour to maximise the effectiveness of my efforts.
  • Knowing that I may become an exemplar to many, I will strive to be authentic, mindful, and to pursue my own personal growth.
  • With an appreciation for the uniqueness of every organisation, I will strive to help each and every client organisation to realise its full potential.

– Bob

Further Reading

A Psychotherapist’s Pledge ~ Ken Seigmann
The Nine Principles of Organisational Psychotherapy ~ FlowchainSensei
The Business Case for Organisational Psychotherapy ~ FlowchainSensei


Organisational Transitions

A ship all at sea on a stormy ocean

Some time ago I wrote three posts describing each of the three transitions in the Marshall Model. Just today, I was thinking that maybe it might meet some folks’ needs to describe “organisational transitions” in slightly more general terms.

Walk and Sail, Walk and Sail

The journey from ineffectiveness to effectiveness is often a long and winding one. With many a mis-step and wrong turn along the way. Notable during this journey are its several discontinuities. By which I mean, there come times when simple, incremental changes cease to make any significant difference. At times like this, organisations on the journey find themselves on the shores of a wide ocean. Here, they may camp for a while, considering whether to build ships and set sail, or settle on the shore, never quite finding the courage to search for the new world.

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”

~ Greg Anderson

These are the times when the question of transition comes up. For the new world about which we’re talking is the new world of a different perspective. A quantum shift in mindset. A wholesale replacement of the organisation’s current memeplex with a new one. One that is wildly at variance with what has gone before.

Lewin’s Change Model

Kurt Lewin was a German-American psychologist, and one of the modern pioneers of social, organisational, and applied psychology. His work includes Lewin’s equation: B = ƒ(P, E), which states that human behaviour is a function of a person in their environment. He also developed a model of organisational and personal change, the Lewin Change Model, which describes change as a three stage process:

  1. Unfreezing
  2. Transition
  3. Freezing

“A change towards a higher level of group performance is frequently short-lived. After a ‘shot in the arm’, group life soon returns to the previous level. This indicates that it does not suffice to define the objective of planned change in group performance as the reaching of a different level. Permanency of the new level, or permanency for a desired period, should be included in the objective.”

~ Kurt Lewin, “Frontiers of Group Dynamics”, Human Relations, Volume 1, pp. 5-41

Bridges’ Transition Model

William Bridges created his Transition Model to describe what happens to a person internally, inside a person’s mind, as they go through change. This Model posits three stages:

  1. Ending, Losing, and Letting Go.
  2. The Neutral Zone.
  3. The New Beginning.

Organisations too (more specifically, the organisation’s collective mind, a.k.a. the organisational psyche) go through a similar three stages of transition – at each discontinuity. Somewhat like settlers setting sail in search of a new land:

  1. Casting off; setting sail; leaving one’s homeland
  2. All at sea
  3. Finding safe harbour in a new land

Stage 1: Casting Off; Setting Sail; Leaving One’s Homeland

Organisations enter this initial stage of transition when they first realise they are standing of the edge of a chasm (discontinuity). This stage is often marked with e.g. denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, maybe, ultimately acceptance that something must be done.

At this stage, people up and down the organisation may experience a range of emotions as they wonder if their needs will be met in the “new world”.

Until people realise that something is ending, they may struggle with these emotions. Acknowledging these emotions and atttending to folks’ needs can help people cope with their uncertainties.

Stage 2: All At Sea

In this stage, the organisation finds old certainties dissolving, business as usual is more or less broken, and different groups begin to pursue different agenda, often conflicting. Waste and rework will likely rise, and consequently so will workloads.

Think of this phase as the ocean between the old and the new worlds; in some ways, people will look back, fondly, towards their old homeland, while they are also trying – with excitement and trepidation, both – to find the new. And like the ocean, events can be unpredictable – by turn stormy and calm, with both fair following winds, headwinds, and doldrums.

Crossing The Open Seas

On the open seas, support is vital. Particularly mutual support. It’s likely few if any know where the new land lies, and the immensity of the sea, and being out of sight of land, can daunt even the bravest of hearts.

Stage 3: Landfall – Finding Safe Harbour In A New Land

The last transition stage is a time of homecoming, thanksgiving – and renewal. The organisation has landed in the new world. Everyone knows what to do – and there’s lots to be done!

At this stage, like Cortez, you may choose to burn your boats. The faint-hearted may wish to re-cross the ocean and return to their old world and old ways of thinking and being. And that would be a long and perilous journey indeed.

“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”

~ Arthur Ashe


Any transition is a major undertaking, Yet most organisations have no idea there is an ocean, let alone a new land. And when their steps bring them to the shore, many blithely carry on walking and get soaked – or even drown – before they even notice the ocean is there.

Is your organisation plodding along, step by painful step, through the hinterlands, or is it camped on the shore?

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

– Bob

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