Monday, May 6, 2013

The Grind...

So - one of the dangers about a "quick blog post" is that you really get no time to fully think through and review what you are writing. But sometimes, this can be a good thing. Because you go with your gut, and jot down what is important to you at the time. Hopefully, in retrospect it helps someone. I just happen to have one of these moments now.

Recently, I started helping a new client. One of the things I noted is that though most of the culture is open and vibrant, the culture within IT is actually quite the opposite. Which led me to start asking questions, and start offering ideas on ways to change this to match the rest of the company. I was very surprised to be met with skepticism and slight resistance, even in light of the fact that the team I am helping seems to get along well together. The results of my gentle prying in terms of "why is it this way" resulted in two points that seemed to travel with the question. The first was "what do you think? Are we doing things right?" - which really is a masked version of "what are we doing wrong?". The second, and more surprising was "why do YOU think YOU will be able to change things, when so many before you tried and failed?". This second one was interesting!!

The first question is actually relatively common. Almost every client goes so far as to tell me that they are SO messed up, there is no way to fix them. The truth is, most organizations suffer from some fairly common issues. And really, the "solutions" are usually relatively benign, but difficult to implement. On the rare occasion, I will get an outlier - wither a client that has little to no issue, or one that REALLY is messed up. Even here, most of the time the teams who want to work together usually get out of their funk and start performing to their expectations or more. This leads us to the more sinister and troubling second question...

This second question reminds me of David and Goliath. And those of us who have had to fight this fight understand exactly what I am talking about. It is daunting to go to an organization, and know that you or a small group of you will be the select group telling everyone - this needs to change. I have had to do this with a few or alone in relatively large organizations, some with extremely defined cultures (the oldest in existence for about 90 years!). And I have seen the heads roll - for the simple task of asking "why". In some cases, it has been MY head!!

So, when my team member kept asking "why will you be different" I would answer, but have this nagging feeling in the back of my neck. Not until I STOPPED and LISTENED, after I saw what was going on and how people were confined by process, expectation and environment did I comprehend what he was asking. Indeed, why would I, a single person in the cog, make a difference in this medium sized client, with an established reputation of fluidity and chaos? Why would I, the new guy, be able to change hearts and minds where there were few people listening, and with little to no protection? Indeed, after a few days the comments were interesting. "There once was a time where questions like that would get you hired on the spot" and "You show a lot of courage - too bad we don't value that anymore". I am in a culture that is self sustaining, and flexible enough to bend to the good intents - but resilient enough to go back once the pressure is removed.

Now that I understand the question a little better, I have a choice. Do I stop trying, and go with the flow making minor changes here and there where I can get easy wins? Or do I "charge that hill" with blazing courage and innovation shooting out of both barrels? The answer is - I don't yet know... I am not sure if I can change the whole thing or not. The one thing I am sure of is - I will help this team, and this client as much as I am allowed to - in hopes of nudging this ship in the right direction. If the occasion calls for outlandish courage, I can do that. But a friend told me - "Not every opportunity is a shoot out at noon". Maybe I need to be more subtle in my approach. Because at the end of the day, it is my job to try to help the culture change - hopefully to help out the teams that make up the organization.

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