Monthly Archives: September 2014

What An Effective Group Workshop Looks Like

I have this theory, based on long experience, that folks in most every organisation have little or no understanding of what “effective” looks like. From concept-to-cash product development, to simple workshops and meetings, and even one-to-one conversations, people lack a “standard” against which to compare their own efforts and experiences.

Absent such a standard, many folks seem to assume that they’re doing just fine. And absent an awareness of the scope for doing better, they seek little in the way of techniques or knowledge about how to be more effective. Nor do they often realise – beyond a certain low-key, nagging discomfort – just how much time, energy and opportunity they’re wasting through ineffective behaviours. Of course that’s not the whole story, what with systems that lead inexorably to disengaged people, and collective thinking patterns – a.k.a. mindsets – that underwrite systemic ineffectiveness.

My work with Rightshifting started from the premise that if folks acquired some simple understanding of their organisation’s relative ineffectiveness, they might choose to look, just a little, into the matter of effectiveness. I see few other practical ways to humanely advance the effectiveness of knowlede-work organisations everywhere. And to reduce the egregious waste of human potential we see in most every workplace today.

A Story

This post is a story about what an effective workshop might look like, from the perspective of those folks participating in it. How much is it like the workshops you’ve participated in over the years?

The Newbie

Sandra was feeling apprehensive. The email had been brief. “From: Ellie Lomas at To: Sandra Hardy at Subject: Upcoming Product development workshop. Hi Sandra, We’d love for you to join in the upcoming Product Development Workshop on 17 October. This one-day event will be held in the Marcus Suite of the Brocade Hotel, near our offices. RSVP to reserve a place. You can always cancel later if the details make it appear unsuitable. Thanks, Ellie, Coordinator,”

She’d not been with BaCo long, and didn’t know quite what to expect. The date was still a month away, though, so she made a mental note to talk with some of her colleagues about things.

Over coffee later, she broached the subject with Dave and Rasheeda. “So, I’ve been invited to next month’s Product Development workshop. Have you been on these kinds of thing before?”

Rasheeda smiled. “Yes. I was in a Skilled Dialogue workshop last month. And I’ll be attending this Product Development thing next month, too.” Dave nodded his head as if to say “And me.”

“Did you have the orientation around workshops as part of your induction?” “Oh, um…yes.” said Sandra, recalling that part of her induction week, but not quite remembering what the workshopping section had covered. “I’ve got the notes. I’ll check and remind myself about what we covered.”

Dave laughed. “Yes. They pack a lot into Induction Week, don’t they? Not much of it sticks, I guess. Still, back when I joined we had to figure most of it out for ourselves as we went along. It’s only been for the past six months or so that newbies have had the advantage of a formal Induction Week.”

Sandra couldn’t help but reflect admiringly on the way BaCo had grown its staff support services as its business had grown. She’d not seen that kind of care and attention to fundamentals in the other companies she’d worked for. It gave her a warm and fuzzy feeling, and strengthened her belief that she had made the right choice in accepting the job.

Back at her desk with a second cup of coffee, she browsed through the material from her Induction Week. Ah. Here it was. Workshopping. And her notes on the topic.

“At BaCo, we thrive on folks collaborating. But we’ve found that few folks know how to collaborate effectively. Exploration of the experience of working together, and opportunities to develop skills through both classroom practice and application in real situations can all help. We have regular courses in Skilled Dialogue, which you’re welcome to attend. And you will note in most meetings, workshops and other group sessions within BaCo a certain style of interactions, born of people wanting to see that everyone gets the very best out of the meeting or session.”

She skip-read a few paragraphs until she found the heading “Workshops”. She began reading more intently.

“When you accept a place in a workshop, you’ll receive a list of references – books, articles, videos, and the like – which might help you start thinking about the workshop topic, and give you some entry points into the subject matter. Most often this will include a few general, standard references to workshop-related topics as well as references directly relevant to the topic of the particular workshop at hand.”

“Presently, for all workshops in BaCo, we invite you to have read ‘More Time To Think’ by Nancy Kline and ‘Crucial Conversations’ by Patterson et al.. And more generally, many folks in BaCo are familiar to some extent with the work on e.g. Skilled Dialogue of folks like Argyris, Bohm and Isaacs, too. (See specific references at the end of this section).”

This was a lot of information in a few paragraphs. No wonder it hadn’t really stuck during Induction Week. Sandra wondered if there were any courses on Skilled Dialogue scheduled soon. It seemed like an idea to attend one, if possible, before the Product Development workshop.

She began typing: “From: Sandra Hardy at To: Ellie Loma at Subject: Any Skilled Dialogue courses soon? Hi Ellie, I was just wondering if there were any Skilled Dialogue courses scheduled before the upcoming Product Development Workshop you’ve invited me to? Thanks, Sandra Hardy, Product Owner,” and hit “send”.

A few minutes later, a new email mail popped up her Inbox: “From: Ellie Lomas at To: Sandra Hardy at Subject: Re: Any Skilled Dialogue courses soon?” She was about to go for lunch, but opened the email to read. “Hi Sandra, unfortunately our next Skilled Dialogue course is not until. 24 October. I was already in the process of inviting you to that as a new starter.  You’ll be receiving your invitation next week.  Here’s a list of upcoming course, including those for Skilled Dialogue. [Elided] Please note you can also find the live list on our intranet at <link>. Please also note that the syllabus for each course is included in the course details, to help you decide how relevant it might be to your needs. Thanks, Ellie, Coordinator,


Walking down to the company restaurant, Sandra considered her quandary. Would it be better to decline the Product Development workshop invitation until she’d had the chance to learn something about Skilled Dialogue? Or accept and just go along anyway? She didn’t want to look stupid in front of her new colleagues, nor waste their time stumbling to participate without the necessary skills.

“You’re looking a bit pensive” said Rasheeda, as they walked together into the restaurant. “Penny for them?” “I’m just wondering whether to accept the invite to the workshop next month, given how little I know about BaCo workshops in general, and Skilled Dialogue in particular. Oh. You said you’ve been on a Skilled Dialogue course recently. What do you think?”

Rasheeda thought for a moment then smiled reassuringly. “Remember one of BaCo’s mottos: ‘There’s value in implementation and taking action’. There are many things one doesn’t understand – why not just go ahead and take action; try to do something?”

“Ah, I kinda remember that from Induction Week”, said Sandra, still wondering if she could risk imposing on her coworkers’ time. “I guess you’re worrying about wasting people’s time? Don’t be. People understand that newbies need to find their feet. Everyone’s going to make allowances, and help you out” said Rasheeda.

“And don’t forget, there’s a lot of self-study material, and pointers to resources about Skilled Dialogue, and many other topics, on the BaCo intranet.”

“I hadn’t thought of that. Guess I’ve not got into the BaCo ‘taking the initiative’ way just yet. It’s hard to throw off old habits”, said Sandra. She sighed, but felt excited too, about the prospect of taking an active part in learning something for herself about Skilled Dialogue.

The Learning Starts

After lunch, Sandra dug into the intranet and searched the web, looking for materials and resources on Skilled Dialogue. The intranet had some pointers to some intranet forums where BaCo folks discussed related ideas and topics, shared articles, and generally explored the subject together. She recognised some of the names of forum posters as nearby co-workers.

She also spent some time on Twitter, asking her communities about Skilled Dialogue – and received some helpful-looking references. One in particular caught her attention: “Teaching Smart People How to Learn” by someone called Chris Argyris. She downloaded the PDF to her tablet, making a mental note to read it on the train home.

At the end of the day, she was feeling tired but energised, having made a start in understanding the whole subject of Skilled Dialogue. She was already beginning to see how it could make meetings and workshops go smoother. She had one last thing to do before putting on her coat.

She found Ellie’s email from earlier in the day, and hit “reply”. “From: Sandra Hardy at To: Ellie Lomas at Subject: Re: Upcoming Product development workshop. Hi Ellie, thanks for the invite – and your help with Skilled Dialogue course schedules. I’m delighted to accept the invite to the upcoming Product Development Workshop on 17 October. Thanks, Sandra Hardy, Product Owner,”

The next morning, over breakfast, Sandra found a new email from Ellie waiting for her: “From: Ellie Lomas at To: Sandra Hardy at Subject: Upcoming Product development workshop – Acceptance and Informations. Hi Sandra, Happy to hear you’ll be joining the Product Development Workshop on 17 October. Here’s the advance information going out to all attendees:

For: Sandra Hardy

Specific to this workshop: The topic for the one-day workshop is “Product Development”. In this workshop, we’ll be covering the future direction of Product Development at BaCo – that’s to say, how we believe we can most effectively take new ideas – for whole new products, for little incremental additions to out existing products, and everything in between – and turn them into things which our customers will love – and love to pay for.  We know we’ve a ways to go, and that there’s much scope for making this kind of work work better. Here’s a list of references to some relevant books, articles, etc. you might like to take a look at in advance, in preparation for the day:

Note: All books are available via our BaCo company credit account at

Relevant authors include: Bill Deming, Russell Ackoff, Peter Drucker, Peter Senge, Donella Meadows, Allen C Ward, Michael Kennedy, Tom Gilb, John Shook, Jeffrey Liker, Don Reinertsen, John Gall, Douglas McGregor, Taiichi Ohno, Eliyahu Goldratt, John Seddon, Eric Ries, Steve Blank.

Relevant disciplines include: Systems Thinking, Lean Product Development, TPDS, Lean Startup, Theory of Constraints, Product Development, basic Queuing Theory, Hoshin Kanri, Scenario Planning, Value Streams, Value Stream Mapping, the Kano Model.

Relevant links include: <links>

Also please note that you can share in advance, with other attendees, topics and ideas you feel might be useful to explore together on the day. We suggest Twitter as the medium for this, the hashtag is #bacopd17.

General: Attendees at previous workshops have found that a working knowledge of and practice in Skilled Dialogue makes BaCo workshops more effective, a better use of everyone’s time, and results in more insights, actions, mutual exploration and learning.

Here’s a list of references to some relevant books, articles, etc. you might like to take a look at in advance, in preparation for the day:

Relevant authors include: Chris Argyris, Bill Noonan, Patterson et al., William Isaacs, Nancy Kline, Patrick Lencioni, Sir John Whitmore, Nonaka & Konno, David Bohm, Peter Senge.

Relevant disciplines include: Skilled dialogue, thinking together, team-building, team coaching, ba.

Relevant links include: <links>

You are registered for this event. Also registered are: Steve Wilson (Facilitating), Dannie Jones, Uppad Misra, Claire Leeson, Rigali Mussolo, Dave Walbrook, Nick Carty and Ken Prather. You can find the live list of registered attendees here: <link>

Thanks, Ellie, Coordinator,”

“Jeez!” Sandra gasped to herself. She suddenly felt overwhelmed. So many books. So many authors. So many disciplines. Almost all of them she’d not even heard of before. “And I’m an experienced Product Owner?”.

Comes The Day

By the day of the workshop, Sandra was feeling all read out. She’d studied Lecioni’s teambullding model and his ideas on better meetings, Noonan’s book on discussing the undiscussable, and Nancy Kline’s work on Thinking Environments. Coaching For Performance has opened her eyes to the potential in people. William Isaac’s stories had inspired her with the power of productive dialogue. But she felt like a total novice, even so. So many more references to follow up. So much knowledge yet to explore. She didn’t know how she was going to cover it all in a lifetime, let alone in the months or years she might be working for BaCo.

And there was the whole other domain of Product Development to cover. She’d believed she knew lots about that. And now, she wondered if she knew anything about that, either. But she knew one thing. She knew she’d found something she loved. At school, study had seemed dry and pointless. But now, to her utter amazement, she had discovered she did have a love of learning. Was this some kind of BaCo conspiracy? Did they know this was one effect of their encouragement to learn? Was it a deliberate and cunning ploy to exploit the workforce? It sure didn’t feel like exploitation.

She bumped into Dannie on the walk to the hotel. “Morning.” “Morning, Dannie.” “Looking forward to it?” Sandra thought about that. “Excited. And daunted.”

They’d reached the revolving door at the entrance to the hotel’s lobby. The conversation paused as they separated to go through the spinning glass and steel. “Ah, I can remember that feeling” said Dannie, taking a deep breath and smiling. “Quite a challenge.”

They followed the BaCo signs to the conference room. Half a dozen other BaCo folks were there already, hanging their coats and stashing their bags. One of the guidelines for BaCo workshops was to avoid using laptops. Several folks already had their tablets or smartphones out and were connecting to the hotel Wifi. The large screen showed the BaCo logo, the title of the day’s workshop, and a clock ticking in the lower corner.

“Welcome”, said “Bruce” – Sandra guessed, a hotel employee, by his badge and his dress. “Tea or coffee?” “Thanks” said Sandra, moving to take a cup, tea bag, and hot water from the urn on one of the side table.

While she was adding the milk to her tea, Ellie walked in, carrying a box under her arm. “Stationery and stuff!” she exclaimed, putting the box down on a side table towards the front of the room. “Get it while it’s hot! Everybody help themselves, as you need to.”

Sandra guessed most of the attendees had arrived by now. Most were chatting in groups of twos and threes, some animatedly, some more relaxed. She walked over to where Dannie was chatting with a dark-skinned woman. “Sandra, you know Uppad? She’s working on the Logix product at the moment.” They exchanged greetings. Sandra was unsure as to how to continue the conversation, but Uppad helped her out. “So you’ve been here a month now? Getting into the swing of things?” Sandra thought about saying no, about sharing her awe at the amount of stuff she now knew she didn’t know, but was cut short by Steve, the facilitator, tapping the bell for the room’s attention. “It’s two minutes to Nine, so who’s for getting started?” Everybody took their seat and most opened their Twitter apps. Some tweeted what Sandra guessed as a few words about the start of the workshop.

“Ok, how do we want to start?” asked Steve. “Do we want an amanuensis stroke cybrarian?” asked Nick. “If so, who’d like to do that?” Sandra had read about this role, and spoke up. “I’d like to do it. Except I don’t know much about it. Would it be OK to have a newbie?”

“Ah” said Nick. “All you have to do” he said, tilting his head down and looking up at her with a wry smile “is to tweet things that might be interesting for the group here, and maybe for other folks across BaCo, too. Our hashtag today is up there next to the Wifi code. He pointed to an A2 Post-it stuck to the wall with “#bacopd17” written on it. Tweet things like references to any key ideas that get mentioned, or any insights that emerge. Saves us all each writing our own notes. Also, we’ve found it’s handy to have topical images, book covers, quotes, notes, etc. visible on the big screen. Oh, and you might find using that laptop – with its keyboard and screen – more convenient than your tablet. Being our amanuensarian might help you pick things up quicker than just sitting quietly and listening?”

“Anyone else burning to do it?” asked Steve.

No one seemed keen to deny Sandra the opportunity, so she moved over to the vacant seat at the laptop controlling the big screen. Once seated, she called up a browser in one window and projected it onto the screen for all to share, whilst opening twitter in another, shared window, showing the live #bacopd17 hashtag stream.

“Ok.” said Steve. Do we want an agenda? “How about just throwing some topics onto some post-its, and choosing as we go?”

“Everyone nodded.” The Lean Coffee – like format was well-know and well-liked amongst those present.

“First – standard – topic is ‘Why are we here?’”. How about we make a start on that whilst we have some time to note what we’d each personally like to cover today?

Steve wrote something on a Post-It and stood to place the note on the flip chart. “Why are we here?” Sandra knew enough about this format of meeting to start the timer counting down the eight minutes they’d spend on the topic. The countdown appeared, discreetly, in one corner on the big screen.

Each person in turn shared their reasons for attending the workshop, speaking about how they were feeling being there, what they thought they needed to get out of the day, and any requests they had in that regard. Each also spoke to their shared common purpose for the workshop. Sandra noted how everyone appeared to have spent some considerable time thinking about these things in advance. She herself had been using the #bacopd17 hashtag stream as a window into such thinking for a week or two previously.

As each person talked, the others listened intently, looking down occasionally to make a note or two. And Sandra, as amanuensarian, trawled through the hashtag stream for more candidate topics – those that had been tweeted over the past few weeks.

Although Sandra has been at some dozen BaCo meeting since her first day, she was still very struck by the no-nonsense, matter-of-fact way in which everyone in BaCo meetings just got right down to it. Idle chat, off-topic conversations and pleasantries were conspicuous by their absence. Everyone listening carefully, processing what they heard, and only so very occasionally speaking in response to something said. She could clearly see the influence of Nancy Kline’s work in action.

Choosing a Topic

[Choosing a topic – tbd]

Every time someone mentioned an idea or reference that she felt deserved special attention and sharing, Sandra would google for it and display some likely helpful information or image on the big screen. All the while, the twitter stream was updating in near real time with tweets from within and without the room.

[Illustrate engagement and constructive conflict – tbd]

And the Day is Done

“It’s a wrap!” Steve exclaimed. Everyone smiled. And sighed. It had been a long day. And the workshop wasn’t over yet. Everyone stood, gathered their possessions, bags and coats. As they filed out of the room, a few lingered to discuss this or that.

On her train home, Sandra reflected on her first BaCo workshop. It had been a good choice, volunteering as the amanuensarian. She’d learned a lot, through having to look up references, thinking about what to display on the big screen, and keeping abreast of both the twitter stream and the conversation in the room. The amanuensarian role had helped in making more of it stick.

She took her smartphone and scrolled back through the day’s twitter stream. Plenty there to catch up on and delve deeper into over the next few days. And folks not present in the meeting had contributed some interesting stuff too. Even some folks outside of BaCo. She ‘followed’ everyone who had contributed something.

She replied to or retweeted a few of the day’s tweets, before relaxing into her seat and listening to some tunes, as the train rocked along, homeward.


A Model

The above story illustrates a range of features of an effective workshop:

  • Certain shared proficiencies in e.g. Skilled Dialogue, Lean Coffee, etc..
  • Pre-reading (shared), including “standard” texts – here including Nancy Kline and Chris Argyris.
  • Clarity of purpose “just why are we here?”.
  • Shared purpose “we’re all here for the same things”.
  • Folks tweeting and googling continuously during the workshop.
  • Amanuensis / cybrarian to facilitate shared learning in the workshops.
  • Democratic agenda-setting.
  • Mutual exploration of topics.
  • Active curiosity.
  • “Essentiality” – avoidance of rabbit-holes and extraneous discussion of details.
  • Focus on impacts (as compared to busyness, or outputs, or even outcomes).
  • Post-reading – following up new references.
  • Follow-up conversations, actions.
  • Feedback.

– Bob


In writing this story, it seemed to me that a video of a workshop in action would be a great addition to the resources available to BaCo staff to help them appreciate the nature of an effective workshop. Maybe one day I’ll have the opportunity to write and/or direct such a video.

Further Reading

What is Dialogue? ~ Susan Taylor (pdf)

You’re Not As Effective As You Think

Statistically, it’s very likely that you overrate the effectiveness of your organisation.


The above chart shows two distributions.

The blue curve – the Rightshifting curve – shows the distribution of knowledge-work organisations vs effectiveness. Note the median is at 1.

The red curve shows how organisations typically rate themselves re: effectiveness.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect says that unskilled individuals will rate themselves and their abilities higher than is accurate. I have regularly seen this happen in groups – such as companies and the like – too.

“If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent. […] the skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.”

~David Dunning

The key consequence to this is that these kinds of unskilled groups believe they are doing much better than, in fact, they are – and thus will see much less reason to put effort into improvement, seeing the gains to be had as marginal.

Note also that highly skilled individuals and organisations tend to rate themselves and their abilities lower than is accurate. In other words, organisations that have things working effectively tend to believe that other organisations have things working fairly effectively, too.

What To Do

How might we begin to do something about this over-estimation of effectiveness by the vast bulk of (ineffective) organisations out there?

“…grossly incompetent students improved their ability to estimate their rank after minimal tutoring in the skills they had previously lacked, regardless of the negligible improvement in actual skills.”

In other words, this suggests organisations that invest in minimal exposure to how more effective organisations work will begin to improve the accuracy of their estimates of their own effectiveness. And thereby gain a better picture of the significant benefits to be had from improving things.

So, even though you’re unlikely to believe just how ineffective your organisation presently is, just a little investigation and learning might tell you otherwise.

This premise – that folks would see more point in improving things if only they knew how relatively ineffective their organisation was – is what spurred my work on Rightshifting, as a public awareness campaign, in the first place. And continues to energise me and the whole Rightshifting community.

– Bob




A Digital Trail


Recently, the marvellous Seth Godin published a post entitled “Are you willing to build a trail?“, subtitled “Are you willing to work hard enough to get work?”

Well, I am, although I’ve been at it for over a year now, with precious little to show for it by way of income. I’ve been sharing with folks my belief that, realistically, I don’t ever expect to find paid work again. Not out of choice, you understand, but out of despair for finding any kind of work that I could in all conscience get behind, get into and enjoy.

Anyways, Seth’s post spurred my to writing this one – and setting out my “digital trail”. We’ll see if it has any result, other than offering an opportunity to vent.

Aside: I’ve yet to meet any prospective client, partner, employer, etc. that could even be bothered to visit my blog, let alone engage in conversation regarding one or more of my posts.

Digital Trail


Is it safe to assume as you’re reading this, that you know the URL for my blog?


If you’re really interested, you can find my career history on my LinkedIn profile.


In my personal work, I’ve created Rightshifting, the Marshall Model, the Antimatter PrincipleFlowChainProd•gnosis, Product Aikido, Emotioneering and other cutting-edge ideas. Unpublished works include Contextual Databases, and various software tools.

Some Past Work

Although I hold that past work is little related to future potential, here’s just a few highlights:

  • Wrote “Hearts over Diamonds” – the foundational book on the emergent discipline of Organisational Psychotherapy.
  • Founded the first 100% Agile software house and consultancy in Europe (Familiar Limited).
  • Founded the first ever secure, web-based e-commerce business (The Object Warehouse).
  • Created the first commercial Modula-2 Compiler, on PDP11s (RSTS/E, RT11, RSX) and VAXes
  • Helped many, many people find more satisfaction in their chosen paths.

Voluntary Work

In my spare time I’ve taught hundreds of people to ride safely, likely saving dozens of lives.

Best Lesson

The best lesson I’ve learned from Steve McConnell is Rightshifting.

Connecting With People

Here’s just one of many blog posts that have changed the way I think about connecting with people, online and in meat space.

Current Work

I’ve been working solidly on my own themes for the past several years – and intermittently for many more years than that. This makes me happy because it meets my needs for making meaningful connections with many like-minded folks in the global software community. And for mutual exploration of key issues facing everyone involved in – or dependent on – software and product development.

It fails, however, to meet my needs for making a real difference – despite many kind folks reassuring me that I am. Hence my continued search for a place – or places – where that may happen.

– Bob

TDR – Test Driven Relationships

TDD (Test Driven Development) seems fairly well known as a software development technique these days – even though uptake and understanding remains “patchy”. TDD purports to improve the quality of code by focusing on the intended behaviour of a piece of code before writing that code.

I believe that relationships – interpersonal relationships, relationships between people – are what really matters in work – and particularly in collaborative knowledge-work. Far more than code quality – although that’s handy, too.

One question which folks ask me regularly is “how might we go about improving the quality of our relationships?” I propose TDR – Test Driven Relationships might offer a way forward.

What is a Quality Relationship?

Psychology and psychotherapy have quite a lot to say about what makes for a quality relationship.

Gregg Henriques offers the “5 Cs” model (Conflicted -> Civil -> Cordial -> Close -> Connected)

Patrick Lencioni has his “5 Dysfunctions” model (Trust -> Positive conflict -> Commitment -> Accountability -> Results)

The Fundamentals of TDR

In improving relationships, it’s often helpful to try things out. For example, if we’re wanting to be more empathetic, it can be useful to try to guess how someone is feeling, and then ask them how close to the mark our guess is.

“In relationship, business, classroom, and parent-child conflicts, we can learn to hear the human being behind the message, regardless of how the message is framed. We can learn to hear the other person’s unmet needs and requests. Ultimately, listening empathetically does not imply doing what the person wants; rather, it implies showing respectful acknowledgment of the individual’s inner world. As we do that, we move from the coercive language we have been taught to the language of the heart.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Taking this principle and extending it, TDR says “define the results you expect – or desire – from an upcoming interaction with someone, plan an approach, have the interaction, and then compare the results against those expected / desired”. If the results don’t match up, refactor you approach to the interaction and try again.

As a reference and comparison, here’s the vanilla TDD four-step red-green-refactor process:

  1. Add a test – the simplest possible
  2. See it fail (red)
  3. Make all tests (to date) pass, using the minimum amount of instructions (green)
  4. Refactor

Why It Works

TDR helps us clarify our intent, and experiment in small increments with the way we relate to others, adjusting as we find things that don’t work so well, aw well as things that work particularly well.

“Every time I mess up is a chance to practice.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

TDR also allows us to better keep the idea of “relationship quality” in our minds, and provides us with a practical means to focus on improving that quality.

For those who object to TDR on the grounds that it’s somehow fake, I offer the following advice:

“Fake it ‘till you make it.”

~ Neil Gaiman

How important is relationship quality to you? And what are you already doing about that, by way of e.g. deliberate practices?

– Bob


In preparing my recent session at Lean Agile Scotland (on “Theory of Change“) I decided to try a different format from the usual conference thirty-minute “push stuff at the audience” presentation. I generally prefer to encourage interaction and help improve learning amongst all present. In fact, my key aim is always to help more learning happen. On this, I very much share Russell Ackoff’s viewpoint:

“You see, everybody recognizes immediately that teachers are the ones who learn the most. School is absolutely upside down. Students ought to be teaching. The faculty ought to be learning.”

~ Russell L. Ackoff

I believe conferences are as much upside down as our schools. My Lean Agile Scotland session was conceived within this frame.

So I chose a topic of which I have little direct experience myself, but with much relevance to my work at present. This afforded me an opportunity to learn about it through preparing to teach something about it.

And I also chose to include a significant block of time – ten minutes – for the audience to discuss issues pertinent to their own situations. I.E. The Theory of Change prevailing in their own workplace, and the assumptions underpinning their current or planned change initiatives. This, with the belief this would afford the audience a better learning opportunity through some aspects of teaching each other what they knew.

In a nutshell, I chose to hold the space so that some mutual exploration of the topic could happen. This was, admittedly, something of an experiment.


The session turned out much like Marmite. Some loved it. Some hated it. (Some 100 attendees; 14 green feedback cards, 20 orange, 9 red). The haters shared one thing in common, as far as I could tell. The session did not match their expectations. In particular, some shared their frustration that there had been little “content” pushed at them.

As this had been my deliberate choice – to eschew pushing content at folks – I was not too surprised. But I did feel some sympathy for their reaction, given that they had little chance to know in advance that this would be the format. And thus little opportunity to make an informed choice whether to attend, or go to another, parallel, session.

I’ll be writing a companion post to this one in the near future, with suggestions for improving the information available to attendees prior to a session, and with the aim of reducing the chance of disappointment through mismatched expectations.

Now might be a good time to help me with those suggestions. Would you be willing to?

– Bob

Further Reading

The Purpose of Education Is Learning, Not Teaching ~ pp. Russell L. Ackoff & Daniel Greenberg
Students should be teaching. Schools should be learning. ~ Educamp blog

Why Aren’t We Rich Yet?


At Lean Agile Scotland 2014, Joe Rainsberger reminded us that, more than a decade ago now, Kent Beck asked “If we’re so great, why aren’t we rich yet?”.

Over the years, I’ve heard many company CEOs ask much the same question about their own companies, products or services. The answer has always seemed very clear to me.

Play Where The Demand Is

Great companies – or communities, or ideas – that don’t make it big are simply not addressing demand. Instead, they get great at doing, selling, making, stuff that few folks actually want. That is to say, want to pay for. And making folks want your stuff is not much of a strategy. This is, after all, Marketing 101.

Put another way, we might choose to say that these great – but unsuccessful – companies, ideas, etc., are failing to attend to folks’ needs.

But that would be to mis-speak.

Clear, Simple and Wrong

To understand why this explanation is clear, simple, and wrong, we might look at how folks go about getting their needs met. Almost always, people are looking for solutions that match their existing strategies for getting their needs met. Not that they’re very conscious of either – their pursuit of their needs, or their actual strategies (theories-in-use) used in that pursuit – in most cases.

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

~ H. L. Mencken

Existing Strategies and Behaviours Are Sticky

So, any radical new strategies for getting folks needs met will most often be rejected out of hand in favour of their existing strategies. People wishing to promote new ideas, new products, new strategies might benefit from attending to folks’ needs – a.k.a. understanding demand. But that’s nowhere near enough. To find success, traction, riches, requires replacing existing strategies with new ones. Radically new ones.

This is where “real” Agile (XP, Scrum, Kanban, whatever) has largely failed. And why faux Agile has seen much more traction, even though much less effective as a strategy for e.g. developing quality software. Ditto “Scaled Agile”. Note: The needs are the same, it’s the strategies for meeting those needs – existing vs proposed – that differ. Faux Agile bears a much closer resemblance to folks’ existing strategies for getting their needs met, and so looks much more attractive to most.

And of course, Agile was and is an attempt by developers to get their own needs met. And via their own existing – and relatively ineffective – strategies for doing so: persuasion, logical argument, evidence, and so on.

How To Get Rich

The easy way:

  • Play into demand.
  • Promote/sell solutions that look much like folks’ existing strategies.
  • Cite case studies of success stories – but fail to mention that these were where companies had fundamentally changed their strategies.
  • Promise big wins for all (win-win) but don’t stand by that, or tie yourself into results-based contracts.
  • Buy a peg for your nose.

The harder way:

  • Play into demand – attend to folks’ needs.
  • Whilst doing that, invite folks to engage with the question of strategies for meeting those needs.
  • Walk away – albeit temporarily – from prospects that aren’t (yet) comfortable with the idea of giving up on their existing strategies.


Most folks would like to see a little success in their endeavours, even when getting rich is not too important. And most folks, too, would enjoy the experience of seeing everyone’s needs getting met – and getting met more effectively. How about you?

– Bob


For me, the Antimatter Principle, “Attend to folks’ needs”, implies that we also invite folks to raise, discuss, consider the strategies presently in use in attempting to get needs met. And invite folks to raise, discuss, consider alternative, possibly more effective, strategies. This in itself implies a modicum of skill with e.g. meaningful dialogue and potentially difficult conversations (cf. Patterson, Noonan, Argyris, Isaacs, Bohm, Rosenberg, Rogers, et al).

Further Reading

Double Loop Learning Resources ~ Benjamin Mitchell’s blog
Positioning ~ Al Ries and Jack Trout
Buyology ~ Martin Lindstrom
Value Forward Selling: How To Sell To Management ~ Paul R. DiModica


The Busy Managers’ Guide To Winning Big


[Tl;Dr: We’ve learned to pursue our own agendas. Whatever drives us, there are many paths to big personal wins – some much more effective than others]

“You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, well, you might find
You get what you need”

~ Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

There are many, many reasons why folks become managers, and more reasons still why folks stay as managers. But, at the heart of it all, the core reasons are to do with managers getting their needs met. We might choose to call this “finding big personal wins”.

And different managers see “winning big” in different ways.

“Don’t let anyone tell you what you ought to like.”

~ John Cleese

“Big personal wins” can include:

  • Sense of self – self-actualisation, self-image or “fanning the flames of one’s own personal fire”
  • Self-respect
  • Peer respect
  • Big bonuses
  • Belonging – to the management “tribe”, amongst others
  • Being liked
  • Being feared
  • Promotions
  • Raises
  • Increased responsibility (broader span of control)
  • Increased influence
  • Contributing to the success of the business
  • Delighting customers
  • Helping people – especially folks in one’s team
  • Social good – i.e. contributing to corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes, charitable works, etc.

Some of these wins are not so much wins in themselves, but more like proxies for more fundamental wins. For example, being feared is rarely a “win” in itself, but being feared can be seen by some as a means to earn respect, or maybe as a means to getting things done – and thereby being seen as “someone who gets things done”.

And similarly, bonuses might be big personal wins in themselves, or might be perceived as means to other big personal wins, like impressing your mates with a flash car or house (e.g. peer respect, or self-respect), belonging (in the big bonuses tribe) or better personal relationships (love, sex, affection of spouse, etc.)

The Decider

What separates the “successful” managers who regularly win big from the also-rans who don’t win so big or so regularly? In a nutshell, it’s the choice of strategies for achieving big personal wins, and the manager’s ability and alacrity in pivoting – to another strategy – when a chosen strategy comes up short.

“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”

~ Albert Einstein

Choice of Strategies

Let’s take just one big personal win as an example. Sam sees having the respect of her peers as a big personal win. And she’s been acting on the assumption that her strategy of wearing power suits, working long hours, and “driving” her staff hard will earn her that peer respect. Sadly, it’s not been working well for her. Her team don’t much like being “driven” and seem to passive-aggressively oppose her every initiative. Consequently, results are less than stellar. In her previous job results weren’t so important. Few of her peers got to see her team’s results with any clarity. But in her new job, results are much more visible. But she’s going to stick with her tried-and-tested strategy. After all, Sam believe her peers respect her, in part, for her dogged consistency. Why change what you know?


Frankie, on the other hand, finds himself in a similar position. But sensing his previous strategy is ill-suited to his new realities, he quickly pivots. He quickly learns about how his team is feeling, and learns too about how his behaviours have been contributing to their disaffection. Reading widely and swiftly, he conducts a few experiments with changing his attitude – and his behaviour. He soon discovers that genuinely concerning himself with the people in his team – and spending some time understanding what they’re looking for in the way of personal wins – works wonders, at least for some of them. Morale improves, as do results. His peers notice, and his standing rises. His big personal win feels sweeet, and strangely he feels even better seeing the folks in his team find some big personal wins, too.

Frankie’s now keen to win even bigger – and gain yet more respect from his peers. He works with his team to change the work so that it’s easier to spot what everyone’s looking for by way of personal wins – experimenting with different changes, and seeing what brings more personal wins for everyone. Now, both Frankie himself, and everybody on his team, are all seeing big personal wins. Nobody is more surprised than Frankie, who has discovered a new personal win that he never knew about before – the win of seeing others win big.

– Bob

Further Reading

The New Strategic Selling ~ Miller, Heiman, Tuleja and Marriott

Subtle Signs It May Be Time To Call In The Therapist

Often, it’s not glaringly obvious that an organisation might benefit from seeking professional help. So it waits until it’s experiencing a crisis – people leaving in droves, customers screaming about quality, deep internal strife or seething self-loathing – to finally contact a therapist.

In fact, many organisations can delay for years. Decades even.

However, calling in the therapist early — before problems become critical — means the organisation can feel better faster, and start the process of healing sooner.

Calling in a therapist when you experience some subtle signs of dysfunction is no different than going to see an osteopath when you feel a slight twinge in your back. If left unaddressed, these subtle signs can become acute, and – like a twinge – can turn into extreme distress.

In other words, when ignored or disregarded, subtle, occasional symptoms can turn into frequent, intense issues.

Understandably, it’s not easy for any organisation to acknowledge that it needs help.

Displacement Activities

Senior folks – those most responsible for the health of their organisation, of its psyche – might bury disturbing thoughts and feelings by becoming extremely busy, by blaming circumstances – or, worse, employees – or by “medicating” with consultants, processes, training and tools.

Organisations also might berate and judge themselves for struggling in the first place – and for even needing help. Or they might dismiss an issue, believing, “I don’t have it as bad as the company down the street … who are we to complain?”

Admitting the need to see a therapist may be difficult. But in the long run, it can improve the organisation’s health and well-being. Not to mention success. Therapy helps individuals, groups, teams and the whole organisation better understand themselves; learn healthy ways to cope with stress; make decisions about changing markets, technologies and relationships; adjust to big transitions; and be more fulfilling, satisfying places to work, with happier folks working therein.

Here’s a range of subtle signs it might be time to seek therapy. (This isn’t an exhaustive list.)

Physical Symptoms

Spotting symptoms of mental distress or dysfunction in an organisation’s collective psyche can seem daunting. Organisations do not have the same physical “body” as individuals – bodies in which mental and emotional conditions can “present” with noticeable physical symptoms, such as tightening muscles, elevated heart rate, or a sick sensation in the stomach.

But organisations can ”present” with their own kinds of physical symptoms:

  • Meetings called frequently and at short notice
  • High levels of failure demand (work needing to be done through failure of the organisation to do it right first time)
  • Precipitous and/or reckless decision-making
  • High levels of rework (work that has to be redone over and over)
  • Signs of learned helplessness (people not taking responsibility, not showing initiative, not taking ownership of issues, etc.)
  • Firefighting
  • Social loafing
  • Lack of social events, socialising, etc.
  • Failures of change programmes
  • Inconstancy in or ignorance of the organisation’s purpose
  • Inability to focus and see something through to a conclusion
  • Aggressive behaviours
  • Outbursts of Anger and/or irritability
  • Violence
  • Vandalism and dirty/unkempt common spaces
  • Reliance on back-channel scuttlebutt
  • Blameflow
  • Inter-departmental conflicts and strife
  • Widespread pessimism

Here’s an example: The organisation has an important presentation to a major client. Days before, people are running around stressed and panicky. Folks start chatting: “If we screw up this presentation, we’ll lose the account. We won’t make the numbers. We might fold as a business. We’ll have to resign ourselves to being an also-ran or even a has-been company.”

Working with a therapist can help an organisation question and revise this thought process to a healthier outlook: “We have setbacks all the time, we can deal with this, too. We are a worthwhile company whether we excel or not. We don’t fret about being superior or inferior. We focus on the work of the moment. Worry would only undermine our purpose.”

Negative Self-Talk

How we talk with and amongst ourselves is a clue into our well-being. It also drives our behaviour – sometimes unbeknownst to us. Self-defeating thoughts may prompt self-defeating actions, such as staying with a strategy or approach the organisation doesn’t even like, because it’s convinced this is what it “deserves”.

Here are several examples of negative self-talk, which might warrant help:

  • “We’re not good enough”
  • “We’re a crap place to work”
  • “We don’t deserve to be successful”
  • “We don’t deserve nice customers”
  • “We’re a clueless company”

Often, some negative rhetorical questions can also arise:

  • “What’s the point in trying to get better?”
  • “What’s wrong with us?”

Other Signs

Other subtle signs include: feeling disorganised or having trouble delivering; failing to meet due dates; feeling disconnected from customers and markets; losing interest in being successful or customer-focused; and seeing folks, teams, department experiencing mood swings – happy and cooperative one day, testy and argumentative the next.

Other Consequences

Some organisations may only realise they have a problem after consequences from their behaviour emerges. For instance, organisations that regularly let people go for perceived “failures”. They don’t realise the amount of self-harm this is causing until they get to examine the behaviour with the help of a therapist.

As they reflect on their situation, many organisations start to comment on the prevailing atmosphere of fear, self-doubt, disengagement of staff, and widespread isolation. Groups begin to talk about their feelings of helpless and overwhelmedness.

Seeking therapy and working with a therapist are no easy feats. Both require courage and an implicit admission of vulnerability.

From the wide range of organisations with which I have worked, my experiences have taught me that these organisations do not represent weakness, rather they are the strongest and most courageous groups I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. It takes great courage and strength to face one’s issues, ask for help, learn new skills, and make efforts to grow and heal.

– Bob

Holding The Space

You may have noticed that the title of this blog is “Think Different”. Some kind folks over the years have remarked upon the insightfulness of one or more of my posts. Some have gone so far as to ask me whether and when I might be holding a workshop, conference, or other such event on the topics touched-on in this blog.

Well, the time has come and October 7 is the day. This first one day event is titled “The Think Different Experience”. Maybe it’s even the first in a series. We’ll see how it goes.

From my perspective, I feel happy to share in exploring what thinking different means, how to go about it – deliberately and intentionally – and the value it offers to individuals and organisations both.

Busy Busy

I work with many folks, and often I get the impression that everyone’s so busy, busy thinking inside their own little boxes that they rarely have any opportunity or, indeed, inclination to spend some time on reflection, introspection and thinking outside their regular tramlines.

I’ve created the Think Different Experience event to afford some time (a day) and some space (Nutfield Priory hotel) for some interested folks (max 10) to come together and explore what Thinking Differently might mean for us.


With this event, I see my role first and foremost being to “hold a space” which – in itself – has some value for the folks participating. This is not too far from the the idea which inspired Falling Blossoms some fifteen years ago:

*One day, in a mood of sublime emptiness, Subhuti was resting underneath a tree when flowers began to fall about him.

“We are praising you for your discourse on emptiness,” the gods whispered to Subhuti.
“But I have not spoken of emptiness,” replied Subhuti.
“You have not spoken of emptiness, we have not heard emptiness,” responded the gods.
“This is the true emptiness.”
The blossoms showered upon Subhuti as rain.

The Outcome Is In Your Hands

The event will stand or fall on the quality of your participation. Do you feel happy about that, and about the opportunity to contribute to the joy and well-being of not only yourself but your fellow participants?

Don’t Come Along If

There are some aspects to the event which may cause some folks a bit of grief. So, in the spirit of fair warning, don’t come if:

  • You want to be spoon-fed ideas
    I’d describe my hopes regarding facilitating this event as “pull-driven”. That is to say, folks will be invited to pull ideas, feelings, and – ultimately – value from myself and the other folks present. Don’t expect – or hope for – others to “push” ideas at you (although that may happen, inadvertently, now and again).
  • You want to sit back and let others create your meaning for you
    I have some hopes that the folks attending will want to participate actively in exploring and creating their own meaning, and in creating shared meaning too. We’ll see how that goes.
  • You have fixed ideas and assumptions which serve you well enough that you have no wish to examine them, or consider possible alternatives
    I suspect some awkward questions might get asked,. and some tricky subjects – undiscussable to some, at least in their regular workplaces – might come up.
  • All your needs – in work and in life – are presently being well-met
    According to the precepts of e.g. Nonviolent Communication, every human being has needs, needs which each person is trying to get met the best way they know how. Sadly, many folks have chosen means to getting their need met which, by their own terms of reference, carry some pernicious or negative side-effects. Or even, sometimes, have chosen means which actively work against getting those needs met – even though they feel like the best or only means available to the person employing them.

Do Come Along If

  • You want to experience a different kind of event.
  • You’re curious about the value of play, therapy, Bohm dialogue – and similar principles underpinning the event.
  • You’re keen to spend time in the company of like-minded people (I can’t guarantee just how like-minded folks are going to be, though <wry smile>).

What you might come away with

It’s my hope that we all come away from the event with some of our respective needs having been met. This might include:

  • Meaningful connections – with self and with each other a.k.a. “fellowship”.
  • Play – “Do nothing that isn’t play”.
  • Ideas and pointers for getting one’s needs better met (i.e. alternative strategies / means).
  • An appreciation of the bigger picture – whatever that is.
  • An opportunity to be more human – however you may define that.

For what it’s worth, I share Marshall Rosenberg’s definition of “being more human”:

“Connecting with what’s alive in others and ourselves.”

Would you like to be part of that?

Some places still available.

– Bob




Becoming a more effective organisation (company, business) necessitates a whole passle of far-reaching changes. It starts – more or less – with mindset, of individuals, and of the collective. But the ripples spread out across the face of the organisation into all its corners.

Just one of these many corners is the compensation scheme.

The Americans call it compensation, in the UK we call it salary, wages, pay or rate. I like the word compensation. It reminds me that paying people is more about compensating them for all the crap they have to put up with in their eternal struggle to do even a half-decent job, than it is about paying them for the job itself. I’ve long held the opinion that for people who’re doing a job they love, getting paid for it is an irrelevance. Although we all have to keep a roof over our heads, of course.

In the typical Analytic organisation, the basis and rationale for compensation is rarely if ever discussed. It’s one of the many “givens” that brook no discussion. Some widely considered bases for compensation include:

  • Piecework – pay by the unit of output.
  • Time – pay by the hour or day.
  • Fixed rate – pay by the month or year-divided-by-12.
  • Bonus – Additional pay for qualifying Individuals or groups, often contingent.
  • Equity – a share in the success of a product or company.

And most Analytic organisations have a byzantine structure of pay-grades, bands, etc. where folks have to “slot in” dependent on various factors such as age, seniority, time with the company, etc..

The Agile Way

In adopting, say, Agile software development (a toe-in-the-water approach to shifting towards a Synergistic mindset), compensation rarely changes its status to “discussable”. There arises a troubling dissonance around:

a) The long-standing assumption that pay is a motivator.
b) A dawning realisation that pay is not a motivator.

And the basis for compensating e.g. developers is rarely included in the Agile adoption agenda.

If we took it seriously, of course (the Agile adoption, that is), then compensation would perhaps get considered along with the technical practices, self-organisaing teams, changes in job title and roles, etc.. Not as a direct motivational factor, but as something that impacts on folks’ sense of fairness, and thus their attitude, morale, and, ultimately, productivity (via discretionary effort).

Follow the Dominoes

If we follow of the whole line of dominoes to the end, then we might realise that:

  • Most folks are far more sensitive to what’s fair, than to other aspects of compensation policy.
  • As the system (the way the work works) accounts for 95% of an individual’s productivity, then maybe making 95% of an individual’s compensation contingent on the way the work works might make sense. At least, consider making a connection between an individual’s compensation and their contribution to the way the work works (although that contribution is governed by the system, too).
  • Self-organisation, turned up to 11, means teams organising their own compensation, too.

At Familiar, we took a simple Occam’s Razor approach to cut through all this. We chose to believe that only the person in question had an unequivocal understanding of their own needs, vis-a-vis compensation, and of their own work/contribution/value-add. So, in line with the Antimatter Principle, each person got to set their own compensation level/rate/terms. That seemed to work pretty well.

Would you be willing to begin making this topic discussable within your organisation?

– Bob

It’s All An Act

We can see, via simple observation, that in most organisations, folks seem to get their needs met better through pretending to do things than by actually doing those things.

I’m not attempting here to make any kind of moralistic judgment about these folks. Rather, to suggest that in most organisations, the system, culture, prevailing attitudes, whatever, is geared towards encouraging such pretence. Hence, results take a distant second place to appearances.

This is probably not what those in charge – maybe everybody – would ideally wish to be happening. Except those in charge, too, are subject to the same dynamic.

We might express this in Argyris’ terms: folks espouse the theory that results are paramount, yet create theories-in-action which promote appearances and lip-service-to-action, over results and effective action.

Would you be willing to consider what specific changes might be beneficial in getting folks’ need met in such a way that effective action comes to take priority over action for the sake of appearances?

– Bob


I Don’t Want To Respect You

And I don’t want your respect, either. A lot of folks in the Lean community stress the importance of respect. And yes, respect sounds nice – and might indeed be an improvement on the less-than-respectful way many folks relate to each other in workplaces today.

But respect (root: specere – to look at; re – back, or again) implies judgement. Moralistic judgement. And there’s no way I want to judge you – or anyone for that matter. God knows I’m having enough trouble weening myself off that particular human foible.

So, if I’m not happy to respect people, what then? Disrespect? Indifference?

No. I’m happy when I can give – and receive – some empathy. Just being fully present for people, during their crises, during their joyful moments. Any time, really. Oh, and some compassion sweetens the deal. And from empathy, it’s but a short hop, skip and jump to attending to folks’ needs. And the joy that can bring to all concerned.

And if you tell me I have no choice. That I should respect people. That I have to respect people. Then that upsets me.

I guess that puts me beyond the pale, as far as the Lean folks go. Although, in their frame, perhaps they might be willing to find it in themselves to respect my point of view?

Or, perhaps, the choice of the word “respect” is a rather unfortunate error of translation. Perhaps the original Japanese term 人間性尊重 as used by Toyota, meaning

“Holding precious what it is to be human”

would have been more helpful? I feel that’s something I can get behind. Indeed, it’s very similar to Marshall Rosenberg’s stated purpose for Nonviolent Communication:

“Connecting with what’s alive in others and ourselves.”

How about you?

– Bob

Further Reading

The Equally Important “Respect For People” Principle ~ Bob Emiliani
Exploring the “Respect for People” Principle of the Toyota Way ~ Jon Miller
Spiritual Basis of Nonviolent Communication ~ Marshall Rosenberg
Aikido – The Way Of Harmonious Spirit ~ Elizabeth Reninger

Why Corporates Can’t Change

Why do Analytic-minded organisations (e.g. the typical Corporate) keep trying to change yet repeatedly fail?

  • belief in the utility of violence
  • belief in the utility of command (and control)
  • belief that change can be commanded
  • belief in the utility of extrinsic motivators
  • belief that change can be effected through extrinsic motivation
  • extrinsic motivators reduce performance – longer term, and in knowledge work
  • use of extrinsic motivation to effect change longer term, and in knowledge work, fails
  • people’s behaviours are a product of their beliefs about how to get their needs met
  • people’s behaviours change when their beliefs about how to get their needs met, change
  • people will not change their beliefs just because they are commanded to do so
  • no knowledge of other means to effect change

Simply put, collective belief in ineffective strategies stymies corporate change initiatives, every time.

Even more simply: The assumptions and beliefs held in common by corporate-style organisations countervail most if not all attempts at change.

– Bob

Further Reading

What’s A Manager to Do? ~ Think Different blog post

Shifting Mindset – The ROI Is There

What’s the return on investment (ROI) in shifting an organisational mindset?

Let’s be more specific about what we’re talking about here.

What’s the Investment?

Normally in ROI calculations we’re talking about investment in terms of money – or proxies for money, such as effort, resources, capital or operational expenditure, and so on.

For effecting a shift in mindset, money-related investment will include:

  • Staff time
  • Opportunity costs
  • Specialists (coaches, therapists, facilitators, etc.)
  • Increased waste as folks work through the change.
  • Training
  • Incidentals (revisions to policies and policy documents, changes to internal processes, etc.)

And in shifting an organisational mindset, we’re also faced with the personal – that is to say, emotional – investment from everyone, across the organisation, in self-examination, unlearning (of old assumptions) and new learning (of a new frame, perspective or viewpoint). Ultimately, even a new way of being in the world of work.

What’s the Shift?

Depending on the current organisational mindset, the shift – I’ll call it a Rightshift, to indicate the desired direction of the shift, to the right, towards a more effective organisation – can in fact be one of several major shifts.

  • For organisations with a currently Adhoc mindset, the desirable shift will be to an Analytic Mindset.
  • For organisations with a currently Analytic mindset, the desirable shift will be to a Synergistic Mindset.
  • For organisations with a currently Synergistic mindset, the desirable shift will be to an Chaordic Mindset.

And this is not something that can be delegated or bought-in. Leaders must model the shift themselves, yet bring the rest of the organisation along with them, lest they become seen as alien and bizarre.

What’s the Return?

For each shift in mindset, the approximate return is a 200% increase in organisational effectiveness. That’s to say, the whole organisation can reduce its operating costs by a factor of three, or increase its throughput by a factor of three with no increases in operating expenses or inventory (including CapEx).

Aside: Reducing operating costs is a bit of a fool’s errand, though, as, especially in knowledge-work businesses, this may mean reducing headcount, and as the organisation wins new business with its improved competitiveness, quality, service, etc., those apparently surplus yet skilled and experienced people will soon be needed again, to deliver against the uplift in demand. See also: the Porsche manufacturing turnaround story.

How do these amazing, incredible, unbelievable levels of return come about? Where do they come from?

  • Increased morale and employee engagement leading to higher levels of discretionary effort, lower social loafing, etc.
  • Reduced cycle times leading to reductions in e.g. costs of delay and improved flow of value.
  • Reductions in WIP leading to reductions in inventory / carrying costs.
  • Improved relationships skills leading to more effective working relationships, reduced coordination costs, etc..
  • Improved product and service quality leading to improved customer focus, better customer experiences and gain in market share.
  • More organisation-time spent on things that matter.
  • More focussed CapEx investment leading to higher CapEx ROI overall.
  • Reduced debt levels leading to reductions in debt-servicing costs.

You may wish to take a look as some earlier posts on this blog, and in particular the Marshall Model, to understand the challenges involved in realising this kind of fundamental shift in organisational mindset, and thereby achieving the stated ROI.

– Bob

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