Monday, 25 January 2016

Once more unto the breach, dear friends?

I spent a good chunk of the week before last at the Barbican for the RSC's production of Shakespeare's Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 & 2, and Henry V.   It was good, very good, with (for me) David Tennant's Richard II being the standout.  Each of the plays had real interest, but what I found fascinating was the difference it made that they were being performed together as a cycle, with storylines, characters and themes persisting through multiple plays in the cycle.

For example, the characters of Henry IV and Henry V are each present in three of the four plays, Falstaff in two of them, and so forth.  This meant that director and actors couldn't treat each play in isolation - Jasper Britton playing Henry IV had to interpret his role in a way that made sense across a three play arc.  Greg Doran, directing all four plays, had to build something - sets, costumes, music, characters, etc - that worked as a cycle, not just as four individual plays.  This meant that each play 'talked' to the others; that three plays became keys to the interpretation of the fourth, in part determining its meaning, throwing its themes and patterns into relief, shedding light on plot and character.

Nothing surprising about that, but there's a lesson for how we manage change portfolios.  Specifically, we're used to the idea that treating change initiatives as a portfolio means prioritising, sequencing, and timing change activities.  But I wonder if we recognise that each initiative in a portfolio provides context that shapes the meaning of the others?  If one initiative changes processes to reduce cycle time, then cost-saving changes to roles and systems driven by another initiative will inevitably also be connected (helpfully or unhelpful) with a need for cycle time reductions.  The very specific business drivers for one change don't go away when the rationale for another programme is being articulated.

The opportunity we have, therefore, is to build an integrated change story spanning the portfolio.  Seizing this opportunity, we can (positively) move towards a holistic change journey for those impacted, leveraging themes and imperatives across the portfolio.  Negatively, we can avoid clashing and confusing separate change journeys and stories.

In fact, this seems a necessity, not just a possibility.  So what gets in the way?  Let's be real, it's challenging - weaving potentially different imperatives into a coherent whole is rarely straightforward.   And we certainly don't want to blend clear programmes into one ill-defined mega-attempt to boil the ocean.  But it's also true that individual change programmes can tend to take on a life of their own, presenting themselves as the only 'show in town' - their leaders single-mindedly focused on directing their own cast.  Other programmes, with their distinctive agendas and narratives, are easily viewed as competing distractions (if not irritations) rather than sources of potential leverage.  Simply they're seen as threat, not as opportunity.  I don't think it needs to be like that.

Thanks to John Griffiths (@johngriffiths7) for conversation prompting this blog, and analogies with Biblical hermeneutics.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Ron Rolheiser, Unseen Roses, and David Bowie

A very dear friend in my teenage years, the late Bill Raeper, wrote an acclaimed biography of the Scottish writer George MacDonald.  It was MacDonald who spoke of the scent of unseen roses [fn full quote] a phrase that resonated for me this week reading Ron Rolheiser’s The Shattered Lantern.

Paraphrasing, Rolheiser is arguing that narcissism, pragmatism and unbridled restlessness have eroded our ability to contemplate, to live examined lives - and thereby, as per Nietszche, we’ve wiped away the entire horizon of faith.  Instead of wondering at ordinary life, we merely wonder how or whether.  And the loss of wonder, of a 'second naivete', means that we are no longer haunted by the scent of unseen roses, because unseen roses are just no longer possible for us. 
David Bowie was also very present to me when I was a teenager.  Bowie’s too early death, and scale and nature of reactions to it, also took me the scent of unseen roses, to wonder at ordinary life that opens up new vistas.  For that, I think, is what Bowie did best, for me at least.  The excitement of Starman on Top of the Pops was less about the relative positioning of Bowie and Mick Ronson’s guitar, and more about ordinary teenage life (switch on the TV; don't tell your poppa) as a container for the extraordinary (there’s a starman waiting in the sky).  So it is, too, with Space Oddity (take your protein pills), Jean Genie (loves chimney stacks), and Life On Mars (the lawman / Beating up the wrong guy’).  Extraordinary stories and songs rooted in the details of ordinary life, approached with wonder.

Perhaps, and maybe only perhaps, this is why Bowie has been on the agenda for the Archbishop of Canterbury and church organists.  Perhaps, even, it’s got something to do with why it was Bowie who knelt and prayed the Lord's Prayer during the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert.  Perhaps, if we (if I) re-learn to wonder at ordinary life, faith can again become natural and the scent of unseen roses will haunt us afresh.   

MacDonald wrote 'haunted with the hovering of unseen wings, with the scent of unseen roses, and the subtle enticements of "melodies unheard,"' in Alec Forbes of Howglen 

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Four Ps for Leading Change in 2016

They get everywhere, don't they?  Gangs of four letters traveling together, alliteratively demanding attention.  4Ps of Marketing; 4 Ps of Strategy; 4Cs of Learning; and so on.  Just rolling with it, here are 4Ps for leading change in 2016 - things that I'm seeing more and more on the agenda, and which I think as change leaders we need to be increasingly good at.

No surprise in P number one - Portfolio.  I've seen a real shift over the past years to an emphasis on managing portfolios of change, rather than expecting LOBs to handle a plethora of separate change initiatives.  Prioritising, filtering, sequencing - most organisations are getting this in place.  Here's a next step, though - integrating at the point of change.  Simply, the LOB implements one set of changes that integrate those associated with multiple programmes or projects.  Tougher to manage, but an awful lot simpler for line managers and their teams who can establish a rhythm of change 'upgrades' through the year.

Second P - Purpose.  Nothing new here, perhaps?  Ensuring a clear change purpose at the outset is second nature.  So what is changing?  Maybe it's just me, but I'm encountering a growing demand from those on the front line that we don't just tell them what's in it for them, but that we articulate for them clearly and honestly why the organisation is making the change.  I've had front line workers telling me the change just won't be successful without that.  They want to be treated as adults - and that's not a surprise.

P number three - Person.  I blogged here about how change leadership can learn from therapy.  This simply feels like it's getting increasingly important - as with therapy, as with any leadership, the character of the person looking to enable change matters.  Therapy says it's empathy, integrity and unconditional positive regard that drives change: what would happen if those words cropped up more often in Change Leadership role descriptions?

The fourth P?  Pushing for participation, tell me what you think.