Kevan and Veronica kick off Season Two’s exploration of the organizational change journey through the lens of Design Thinking. In a focused conversation they explore why it’s important to come to grips with our own personal tendencies before we even start a change initiative. What are your go-to directions in communication style, energy levels, and self-awareness? And how might they set your change efforts up for success or failure?
The Way We Show Up
Kevan brings wisdom from over a decade of experience leading award-winning digital strategies for a wide variety of institutions and businesses. A seasoned and engaging facilitator and speaker who has been with Domain7 since 2010, Kevan has helped shape our collaborative and people-centric culture. He’s studied design thinking and innovation processes at the THNK School of Creative Leadership.
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Veronica: We’re going to start this episode a little differently by asking you to participate.
Kevan: You can think of it as a mini guided reflection to start off the episode. Here’s how it’s going to work. We need you to think about one change idea that you’d like to make in your organization. Just something that if you had your way, it would be different. Maybe it’s a project you want to see launched or some change you want to see influenced. Just take a moment and consider it. You can write it down if you like, or perhaps just think about it while you’re driving, or walking, or cleaning the house, or whatever you’re up to right now. You’ve got all the time in the world. All the money and the commitment that you’d need. What do you want to change in your organization?
Kevan: We’ll give you a moment just to let your mind wander a bit.
Kevan: Okay. Do you have it? Well, we are turning this into a change contest. From our listener’s change ideas, we’re going to pick the best one and workshop it throughout the rest of this season to make sure it receives the attention that it deserves. And how will we choose? You are going to pitch it. That’s right. You need to find a way to persuade us and this community of listeners to say yes to your change idea. Right now. We’re going to use a new podcast live technology to capture our listener’s voices during this episode. So get your pitch ready. Your microphone will turn on in three, two…
Kevan: …just kidding. Take a breath. We don’t have that technology. And if we did, we wouldn’t do that to you. But we did that for a reason.
Kevan: For a brief moment there when the stakes were elevated, what was going on in your body, maybe is still going on in your body? I feel my heart rate has accelerated just from having done that to you guys. Can you take a moment to notice what you’re sensing in your body? Is there a difference in your pulse? Or in your palms? Are you short of breath? Did you notice anything in your shoulders or in your neck? The most important question is this. The feeling that you have right now, is that a familiar feeling to you from any time during your work life when you think about change. Does your body feel like that? We didn’t do this just to prank you. We did this because in this little game we just played, it reveals a little bit about how we lead change. As humans, as people. And will hopefully cause us to have an even better conversation about the tools available to help us through these realities so we can lead change more effectively. And that’s what this episode and this season is all about.
Veronica: Welcome to Season Two of Changes in the Making, the podcast from Domain7. At Domain7, we work with partners to transform organizational systems and culture. I’m Veronica Collins.
Kevan: And I’m Kevan Gilbert. Today, our episode is all about how we lead change. It’s a topic we were exploring last season as well, and this time around, we want to go deep on some perspectives and tools to really equip change makers to move their ideas through a journey within their organizations.
Veronica: So we tackled this topic quite recently in person with a group of anybody 35 change makers from many different organizations who came to our studio for a workshop. We had invited people who were mid level to senior level in complex organizations. There were people from multiple branches of government there, civic organizations, people from universities, and many more different types of organizations. And we had a conversation about how we lead change in our organizations.
Kevan: And we did a similar thing to what just happened to you on this podcast where we asked people to consider what changes they want to make. And then we said there was going to be a pitch contest in the room. And it was remarkable to watch people’s reactions throughout the space. What did you notice, Veronica?
Veronica: There was definitely … I mean, I knew it was coming, Kevan. And I had a physical reaction when you switched the topic to, okay, we’re going to have a pitch contest. And you ramped up the stakes. And there was a definite shift of energy in the room. I had fun. I was in the corner so I could kind of scan without people noticing me too much. And there were shoulders that went up. There were people who looked around sort of laughing, but in that nervous laughter way of this is not what I signed up for. Some people sat up a little straighter. Seemed to get energized. Started taking notes almost right away. You could see the people that this really clicked for. And then when you kind of let it drop that, no, that was just a trick, a huge wave of laughter across the room, which really signaled that there was some sort of shared height intention that was going on for people there. And then people started explaining what they felt. And there was quite a range, wasn’t there?
Kevan: Yeah, exactly. It’s so many different types of responses, but everybody had one. They had some sort of reaction. That it took them over entirely. Whether they went there on purpose or just went there instinctively. Nobody was neutrally experiencing that. And it’s basically that that we were trying to highlight is that when we have conversations about change, they’re not neutral conversations. Anytime we’re discussing change in our organizations, especially when we are personally invested in an idea, it so quickly brings about these high stakes reactions and responses. And it seems that though when we are trying to push change ideas through, we just assume it’s about the quality of our idea, or how effectively we can persuade people, or whether budget is available. And what we forget is that we are part of the changed story too. We are part of the puzzle. And our styles as change makers, our reactions as change makers can either be this secret weapon that we wield really well or one that holds us back without us even noticing. And that’s part of why we get to do this, right?
Veronica: Yeah. Yeah, I think what was interesting for me in noticing the people who had the reluctant sort of reaction to it was watching sort of what I go through when big change initiatives happen or when I am trying to create a change. And realizing that I don’t give that a lot of time. I definitely feel it. It’s definitely a familiar feeling to experience that in the workshop. But when it’s actually me at work, I have a tendency to shove that to the side as just something I need to get under control.
Kevan: Yeah, of course. We can really dismiss these personal reactions as not really relevant, not part of the equation, let’s focus on the challenge of the change.
Veronica: Yeah. And even like a little bit of an inconvenience. Like, “Get it together, Veronica. Come on.”
Kevan: “What’s wrong with you?”
Veronica: “Power through. Be a little bit more like Bob over there who seems so energized by it. Stand up a little straighter, just get your pitch together.” Instead of being like … I think something that our colleague, Ceri, says to me a lot comes to mind and that is get curious. I don’t really get curious about that feeling. Maybe because it’s an uncomfortable feeling. I’m just like, “Okay, batting that one down. Moving straight ahead here.”
Kevan: For sure. What I hear you doing is I think what happens to so many people in so many organizations. And that is assuming that something is unique to you and personal instead of acknowledging the system reality in which we’re operating. If in our project planning we’re just going to write that off as a factor and assume everybody will be fine with the changes that are happening, we’re kind of asking for a whole lot of friction in the process.
Veronica: And I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, but I have been in organizations before my work here with Domain7 where there were large restructuring projects and things like that. And I do remember getting emails that acknowledged change is difficult for people, we expect this to be difficult. But then there wasn’t much exploration beyond that. It was sort of just, so, please suck it up and get onboard. And I think that that’s very … It’s maybe not how the best change managers are practicing their art today. But it is indicative of a type of change management that says change the structures and the culture will follow. Just change the structures and tell people that, “Yes, we expect some drop off, and engagement, or some discomfort, or even some people leaving because this is uncomfortable. But it’s just sort of the price we have to pay.” And it’s really interesting to think about what if we got curious?
Kevan: Totally. Totally. I’ve been seeing change initiatives as kind of this three corded rope like a braid where there’s the work itself. Let’s call it a digital transformation project. But connected and woven through all of that is the way we choose to work. And then woven amongst those two things is the actual culture in our organizations, which is made up of all these reactions we’re talking about here and people’s default styles and preferences. It’s like the project, the tool set, and the culture are all interwoven. And without all three of them working together and on purpose, acknowledged, and welcomed, we’re going to continue see these extraordinarily long delays in all of these projects.
Veronica: I used to have to explain, Kevan, why we have gone into cultural facilitation and cultural consulting as an agency that does digital transformation. I used to have to sort of connect the dots for people. Like yes, we do digital systems and culture change as well. And recently, I haven’t had to connect the dots as explicitly for people. I’ll be halfway through my sentence and people in all sorts of different industries will finish my sentence for me, where I’ll say, “We do digital transformation and as part of that,” they’re like, “Oh, that’s why you do cultural consulting as well. Because you can’t have a digital transformation without the culture.”
Kevan: The digital and the cultural is so mixed together. And people are a little bit more ready to receive and participate in some of this conversation about what it takes to make these changes happen. They know it’s not just a clinical sterile process. They know that we are part of the ingredients in it.
Veronica: One of the things that I noticed both in this workshop, we were just describing how then in also in our own Domain7 team off site retreat this winter, was that there’s a specific slide that you would put up part way through the Changemaker’s Challenge Workshop that I saw people turn two in both times and start scribbling notes. And it’s interesting because it’s really zoning in on this idea of ourselves, how change starts with ourselves. I was wondering if we could walk through that, the content of that slide a little bit.
Kevan: I think that sounds great.
Veronica: Okay, so just to try to … We’ll put a visual of this on our podcast page as well so you can see it. But just to try to paint the picture for you a little bit. There are three columns. The first is the energy we bring to work. To the change initiative that we’re moving forward or that we’re part of. The second column says communication. So our communication styles. And the third is self. So self-awareness. Our own awareness of who we are and how we show up. And each of these columns, energy, communication, and self, has different directions that you can move. And the first one, energy, there’s a line out from it in one direction with the word assert and in the other direction with the words hold space. And Kevan, I was wondering if you could unpack that a little bit for us. How the energy we bring can do either of those things.
Kevan: Yeah, absolutely. So we saw this in the workshop. And you might have felt it in the opening teaser as we asked you to get ready with your change idea to pitch it. Where did your energy go to? Did it move towards wanting to actually successfully pitch? Or were you kind of stepping back in order to ask, “Is this real? Is this for me? What else is here? I’m curious about hearing other people’s change ideas. Will I be able to learn things through this?” The same thing can kind of happen with our own energy regarding change ideas at work. We can feel really committed to them, just really wanting to push it through appropriately, healthily, convincing people, sharing it, spreading it around. Asserting that the idea that you have is the one that should win.
Kevan: And similarly, we can also have times when we’re holding space, asking people what they think, what they’d like to achieve, what their goals are. And what I’m trying to point out is that both modes are appropriate at different times. And if you become more aware of your own default and preference, you can also choose to bring that style to bear when the moment calls for it. So you’re not just by default asserting or just by default asking other people’s perspectives, but matching it to what the moment needs in order for the idea to flourish.
Veronica: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, it reminds me of a episode we did last season with Ceri who has a background in conflict mediation. And she was talking about the balance of empathy and assertion, which is similar. And she said something that was really helpful to me. She said it’s about holding the two intention. You don’t lose the empathy when you’re being assertive. It’s about what you’re trying to achieve, right? Ceri would say, “You’re asserting your needs when you’re asserting in order to retain and maintain connection.”
Kevan: That’s right. That’s partnership. That’s possible when trust exists. And it’s a little bit more difficult when trust doesn’t exist. We have a voicemail actually from a participant in the Changemaker’s Challenge who talks a little bit about that. We’ll play that at the end of this episode. The thing that can happen, especially if you aren’t feeling heard, there’s you can move asserting into dominating where you can begin to take over discussions and push your idea too forcefully that becomes less about partnership and connection and more about you being a little competitive. And that can cause other people’s perspectives to get lost. And similarly, if you take the other part of the spectrum to its extreme of holding space and listening, you could withdraw entirely, and lose your own perspectives, and no longer contribute.
Veronica: Yeah, it’s interesting because I was actually looking at this today and realizing for the first time when I am asserting myself, it’s because it’s something I really believe in, and it’s worth it, and I’m putting myself out there. And I certainly do go into that mode quite often.
Veronica: But, if I don’t feel heard, seen, or supported, and I have been expending that energy, I actually do the reverse. I flip down to withdraw, I think, that would be my natural reaction. I don’t necessarily push further into assertion, I flip all the way down to the opposite energy in an unhealthy way and say, “Okay, well, I’m done.”
Veronica: I just can’t do this anymore. It’s just really helpful to be aware of.
Kevan: Yeah. It’s so helpful, and I find it helpful, yes, as a human being, but also because the changes that our organizations are trying to make, they matter. The people with great ideas believe in them, and the changes that can happen are extraordinary, and can be improved by the contributions of others.
Kevan: I think of my father-in-law, his name’s Frank, he worked for BC Tel, now Telus, in the ’90s, and ’80s, and early 2000s. One of his pet projects, it was just self appointed, was to help shift the way telephone signals were being carried throughout the provinces, from radio to fibre. He understood that internet was coming, and that the way we carry signals needs to change, but the entire organization is already camped out on this existing mode of technology. It’s what’s being budgeted for every proposal, for a new site, for a new connection between communities. It’s radio cables.
Kevan: The idea of trying to make the system say yes to fibre, that’s hard work. You’re having to almost literally fight against executives, against existing plans, you have to make the case. It’s something that as an engineer he knew was the right path, and is now proven to be brilliantly forward thinking in its implementation. It did get to the point where he successfully persuaded the organization to change its planning strategy.
Kevan: There’s a fun little trophy that’s still on his nightstand that calls him Fibre Frank. Sort of his joking reference to what he became so passionate about and successfully achieved. Frank had to retire early, and part of the reason was because he got an ulcer from these incredibly stressful work realities that he lived within. It’s a shame that we have to do these trade offs between our personal health and the success of our projects. I think work like this, on understanding ourselves and the systems we’re in can change so much of the efforts we’re undertaking and how they affect us.
Veronica: Yeah, because hopefully as this shift happens we can show up more as ourselves instead of having to put on some sort of emotional costume to do battle or to psych ourselves up, or to convince or win over. We can embrace our strengths more and bring ourselves to these processes as human beings without having to contort ourselves into unhealthy, stressful patterns.
Kevan: Precisely, precisely. You think of that in the human toll, and then you also ask from an organization perspective, how many world changing ideas are currently locked up in people who are struggling to get their ideas sold into difficult workplace realities.
Veronica: Which is why I’m really excited about talking to leaders about this, because I think there is something you can do along these lines, no matter where you are in an organization, Kevan, but it is more difficult if you are at the bottom of a hierarchal organization, right?
Kevan: Yep, absolutely.
Veronica: We had a different workshop that we ran called the organization workshop that splits people into top, middle, and bottom, and they’re talking about changing the way that you approach problems at work, and understanding the dynamics between people. What was striking to me there was they were saying, “If someone’s at the bottom, they need the partnership of the people at the top in making these changes.” So, if you’re leading a team or an initiative, you really do have a unique opportunity to begin to create the space for this kind of curiosity, this kind of exploration, and structures that encourage people to step into this.
Kevan: Absolutely. It’s been really exciting. Just this past couple of months I have found that framing this toolkit, the toolkit of engaging organizations in productive practices of listening, and ideation to move through a problem space. We sometimes call it design thinking, but this toolkit has been resonating uniquely with leaders this season, as you’re saying. It’s where there is, literally, a lot of power concentrated, but there’s also power as in the ability to see real change happen when this toolkit is wielded by that particular part of the organization. It is meaningful to empower one agent within a system to try to make change, but so much gets enabled when leadership says yes to deliberate collaboration as the default leadership style.
Veronica: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. Yeah, that’s something we’ve talked about with this map of where we go to, Kevan, is … I’ll just jump ahead a little bit here and say I’m looking at the top line, the direction that your energy goes when you assert yourself is where communication goes when we sell and tell. That is where, at least in the west, that’s where corporate culture and business has sort of camped out. Now, assertion, and selling, and telling, those are really useful, practical things. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do them, but sometimes we focus on that to the detriment of holding space, or of listening and learning. You need this lend of both in order to have healthy collaboration, right? It’s back to what Ceri says about empathy without assertion is wimpy, but assertion without empathy is just too harsh.
Veronica: In order to invite people in to create something together, we really do need to be leaning into practices that maybe haven’t traditionally been as prevalent in corporate spheres, like holding space, listening and learning, and especially as leaders, because often the path to leadership seems to be one of assertion, and control, and dominating, and we’re seeing that really shift.
Kevan: Yeah, well it’s tricky because as a leader, you feel that sense of responsibility, the weight is on you, and you want to act within that responsibility to show that you have an answer, you can be trusted, you’re confident in the direction, so come with me. Choosing to assert or sell and tell is a way of being a responsible leader.
Kevan: It’s almost like, what we’re saying here is you can be a responsible leader, and you can choose a mode of engagement that empowers the other parts of your system, and releases the burden and pressure on you to have all the answers. It can, instead, be your job to ask the right questions within a process that gets to the end result.
Veronica: James Phillips, who is our director of people and culture here, has this great article on how digital transformation is forcing us to embrace different models of leadership. He uses the idea of the conqueror and the gardener. It’s not that a gardener, which is where he says the paradigms are shifting to, it’s not that a gardener steps away from responsibility or isn’t designing the garden, responsible for the garden, having to make difficult decisions, having to assert, even. There’s plenty of decision making that goes on there. But, the gardener understands this is a complex and unpredictable ecosystem that they are stewarding, which is very different. They realize that there’s times where they can assert, and where they need to assert and make decisions, and there’s times where they just have to create the conditions for it to flourish, and that there’s other forces at work there that are not them, are not driven by them.
Kevan: Yeah, absolutely. I love how you phrased that. It helps us see that leadership, and organization life, it’s holistic. It’s something that’s an entire … It’s an entire organism, it’s not just A=B, a linear reaction in a chain of events will get us to where we want to be. It needs to be seen as more fluid than that. If we can adopt that perspective, I think we’ll be a little more effective.
Veronica: Yeah, and that we are organisms too, that we are fluid in our own reactions, and that we don’t have to be afraid of that, and that we can be … I think really confident leadership knows how to lead within these unpredictable fluid realities and understands the complexity there, and can navigate it.
Veronica: The next column that I’ve already alluded to is Communication. The different directions there are very similar to a certain hold space, Sell and Tell, which I see as the communication style around assertion, and then in the other direction, Listen and Learn.
Kevan: Yeah. Yeah, the Sell and Tell is all about persuading, trying to help people see what they don’t see about what’s possible. That’s classically held up as that inspiring model of leadership. We think of books like resonate by Nancy Duarte, which will bring up Steve Jobs, and Martin Luther King, and other presenters who are fabulous orators helping cast forward a vision for what’s not created. Those are people that we are drawn to. There are magnetic spokespeople who know turns of phrases, and can say things with blistering clarity, that makes everybody sit up straight. It’s a gift.
Veronica: It is. It’s a beautiful gift.
Kevan: It’s a beautiful gift. There’s also time to zip it. To say, “You’re beautifully articulated vision might be steamrolling somebody else’s contribution, that might not be as polished or gorgeous yet, but is still there.”
Veronica: I really think of just all of the learning that has come out of the discipline of UX, and UX Research, and Design Thinking, too. This idea of really listening to the user that’s turned business on its head. It’s not just, “Oh, I have a great idea and I’m going to enforce it downwards now.” It’s going out to your community and really engaging in some practices that are designed to help you listen and learn.
Veronica: And Kevan, something I loved that you said, I think last year, when we were working on some community listening practices and methods for a client, you said, “You can’t tokenize your listening.” I thought that was so good.
Kevan: Thanks. Yeah, it’s true. People detect when you’re asking questions but have no intention of incorporating their feedback.
Veronica: Yeah, I’ve had that happen to me.
Kevan: Right, it’s no fun. You feel worse than you did when it started. There’s something called the International Association for Public Participation, and they have articulated a spectrum of how to move through these stages of participation. On the furthest left, the least participatory, is to inform somebody. It moves then into consulting, and then involving, and then collaborating, and lastly empowering. To listen, and learn, and actually do something about it is that involved collaborate empower part of the spectrum.
Veronica: I think is where the magic of culture change really happens, too, is that little word “learn.” Especially when it comes to leaders who are willing to listen and learn. It’s this willingness to really incorporate that, and to collaborate, that changes cultures, because now you’re not just paying lip service or walking through exercises, now you’re actually working differently.
Kevan: Absolutely. It’s so important because there are so many new variables. There are things that it is not possible for us as a single entity to understand. So much around us is changing that if you are adopting a stance of persuading alone, you’re really leaving a lot unlearned and off the table, that you won’t be able to incorporate into these new evolutions.
Veronica: Yeah, yeah. We need all the inputs that we can get in this era of complexity.
Veronica: Kevan, I’m curious about the direction this goes when it goes into un-health, beyond listen and learn, you have “shut down.” I’m curious about that one.
Kevan: Yah, if you take this too far and begin to be a listening, and a learner, you again run the risk of losing track of the perspective you do hold.
Kevan: Again, not be able to contribute your bit. There needs to be a bit of, “Yeah, that point of view retained, you need to retain that aspect of … You might say, “The direction you’re leaning, what is it that you’re wanting to do with the information? How will it be acted on?” You can’t just be a blank notebook in which other people write their ideas.
Veronica: I think of a practice I try to engage in of touching base with my values or touching base with my overarching goals, because I can get caught up in really reading other people, and their opinions or needs, and then getting sucked in and getting disoriented. You’re not turning off your judgment and your own perspective entirely, there’s a reason you’re in the position you’re in to make those decisions.
Kevan: Absolutely. Do you know what? I was leading a retreat on the weekend, and here’s how I managed that: there was one particular exercise where we needed to report back as a group our thoughts on a particular issues, and I was facilitating so I asked the group if I could go first, to give my non facilitator contribution first, for that exact reason. I said, “I know I’m of the personality where I will begin to take on or reflect the perspectives of other people.”
Veronica: That’s so good, yeah. That’s going to be fleshed out more in the next column, too, which is around self awareness. But before we get there, Sell and Tell, the unhealthy direction if you go too far that way. This one seems pretty self explanatory. I feel like we’ve all been the recipients of this at some point in our professional careers. Control.
Kevan: Yeah, it’s pretty easy to imagine. You’re in persuasion mode. You’re trying to convince somebody else to perform a certain something, and you want it to go a certain way because you’re invested in it. Sometimes it can go too far where you’re … This is where the complaint can come out about micromanagement, or maybe as a parent you can connect with the idea of just trying too hard to direct the activities of people who can’t be directed. It takes too much of you because it’s not really possible at the end of the day to control another person, nor is it desirable, but it’s a possible unhealthy endpoint
Kevan: … point of leaning too far into that persuasion, is trying to get your fingers gripped on that reality, so you can just manipulate it the way you need it to be, for Pete’s sake.
Veronica: I feel like there’s a long tradition of books on how to sell that are actually more about how to control-
Kevan: Oh my gosh.
Veronica: And just knowing that the healthy balance where that line is where you cross from healthy selling into something more manipulative.
Veronica: So, the last column, self, and we have two different directions, awareness, which is down on the same line as hold space and listen and learn, and react, or reactive, which is up with a certain sell and tell. This one seems much more about understanding how we tend to respond, right? Our defaults.
Kevan: Yeah, absolutely. I think it was Viktor Frankl that had the quote, “Between the stimulus and the response, there is a gap.” Becoming more aware of that gap lets you choose your response. So, the idea of moving from the self into reactive mode, it really is giving credit to the instinct, to the intuition, to the natural sense of how you want to act in a situation, that your muscle memory takes over, you begin doing that thing you’re good at that you naturally do.
Kevan: In the opening of this podcast and in our workshop, those people who are naturally inclined to successfully persuade or pitch on a set up the pitch contest, they were already writing themselves speech notes.
Kevan: They knew what to do.
Kevan: Their instincts took over, they’re like, “I know how to persuade this room,” and that’s really valuable in some situations where speed, especially, is a factor. There’s the chance to take advantage of that gap, and into the self-awareness, to notice where you want it to go, to notice what was your quickest, most default, natural reaction, and to sign it, whether that’s what you want to do or not, or that there’s a different path.
Kevan: We might be using our old habits and preferred experience to deal with situations that we’ve actually never seen before.
Veronica: Yeah, yeah.
Kevan: If we keep approaching them with our familiar habits, it’s just not going to quite work in the way we want it to. So, cultivating the space for a bit of the self-awareness to choose your response is also an option.
Veronica: I find the word choose to be so helpful in my day to day work, and just this idea of creating this space for awareness. Sometimes I need to, I actually do this quite often, plan into my day or my week, sometime just to create the space between the demands and my reaction to the demands, so that I can choose. That’s where the freedom is, I feel like, and that’s where the creativity and the innovation can be, is saying, “I don’t have to just jump on this the way that I always would, what is really needed here?” But in order to do that, sometimes I feel like it takes pushing a space into my calendar that’s protected that says, “I am going to reflect here.”
Veronica: Kevan, these when they go too far, I see awareness goes into retreat, which again, is something I’m very familiar with, and then reactive goes into overreact.
Kevan: Yeah. I think this is a matter of if your instincts serve you, and you move quickly into a default mode of being, and you also might have expectations to match, that something’s going to work the way you want it to work. It can cause us to be in kind of that slippery pathway into an overreaction when things aren’t as we expect them.
Kevan: I think it’s that the ninja skill we were describing of being ultra responsive when people send requests your way, and winning approval through that means of working. It could be very effective, and it can lock you into those reaction pathways of, “Wait a minute, what was I here to do again? Am I here only to respond? In my responses, did I notice that I maybe responded in ways that were unhelpful?”
Veronica: Yeah, absolutely. So, with this background and this context, we would like to invite you, the listener, to think back to the beginning of the podcast, and the change idea that came up for you, and we asked you to consider what you would most like to change in your organization.
Kevan: Yeah, you were thinking about moving something forward, what was it? What I want to ask you from that, and don’t worry, there’s not a trick this time…
Veronica: It’s totally safe.
Kevan: Totally safe. What’s in your way? When you look at this change idea, why can’t you have it today? Or what’s blocking you from being able to achieve that? I’ll give you just a second to think about that, I’ll phrase it again. Look at your change idea, what’s in the way? Why can’t you have it? What’s blocking you?
Kevan: I suspect, because this was confirmed with the workshop we held in person, that at least one factor in what you perceive to be blocking you, might be related to other people. Whether it’s decisions that they’ve made, or decisions they have the power to make. If that’s the case, then what we have the opportunity to do is just invite you to reframe that a little bit more, is the people might not actually be in your way, they might be on a similar change journey to you.
Kevan: They also might have their own change ideas that they are trying to accomplish, and what you have the opportunity to do is find the common ground, to see where mutual success or connection, or partnership lies, to help you both achieve what you want to be getting done. That’s the trick, that’s why these change ideas can be so challenging, it’s where our hearts got elevated at the beginning of this episode, is because we got pretty protective and competitive, and scared, and something.
Kevan: I don’t want to speak for you, you started feeling a certain about your change idea, because it was your idea and yourself on the line. But what if you didn’t have to be in it alone? What if this was something you could partner with other people to do? What if there was even a tool kit to help you walk through that intentionally from start to finish, to move this to where it needs to be?
Kevan: That’s what this season gets to do for us. We’ve begun to see Design Thinking as a leadership framework for leading change. It gives us a whole set of methods and approaches to take our starting point of being passionate about a change idea, and it helps us break it down into specific steps and components that are incredibly valuable to take the time to do.
Veronica: Now it’s interesting, Kevan, I know this material really well, I’ve been in the workshops, I know the ideal scenario, and I’m thinking about changes that are happening, or that I care deeply about in our own organization, and I fall into this, even though I know better. Constantly, that maybe I’m not consciously thinking it, but I see certain people, or certain groups as, “Okay, well that’s in the way. I have to get past that, or, you know …”
Veronica: When you talk about reframing it, what I just sort of visualized was, you know, if that person or that group of people, that team, is in the way, it’s so lonely to think of it in terms of, “Once I push my idea through that barrier, then I can run with it.” It’s just me, it’s very solitary. There’s a bit of relief in telling myself, reminding myself that, especially, because I have such a collaborative team here, I’m not doing this alone, I do not need to do this alone. I could take that weight off my shoulders, and I have a partner … I don’t have a barrier, I have a partner, in not just designing this change, making this change happen, but then sustaining and maintaining it. I can lean on them, because, you know, one brain is not enough brains either, I need their skills, I need their insight. There is just such a better feeling about that.
Veronica: I think that that’s one of the things that I love about Design Thinking when I was first introduced to it by our Design Director, Stanley Lai, was I loved how it gave us a process and a methodology for separating … putting the idea on hold temporarily, the change idea, while we explored real people’s needs. Whether that’s the users or the internal community.
Kevan: Yeah, absolutely. Veronica, I love how you’ve said all that. It just … it gets me excited again for the season that we have coming up, as we’ve designed an intentional arch to give the weight that each of these steps in the Design Thinking process deserves.
Kevan: What you just said, the idea of putting an idea aside temporarily, so we can focus on people’s needs, that’s really hard.
Kevan: There’s ways to do it though, it’s not an unsolvable problem. In fact, it gets done time and time again by practitioners. So, that’s what we get to do together through this whole season, that’s going to be one episode, how do we explore people’s needs while putting our own ideas aside?
Veronica: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kevan: Another one, how do we frame a problem so that it helps us see that people are part of it, not just in the way? Another one will be all about listening and synthesizing, and so on and so forth, to walk through this whole framework for how we can move through this.
Veronica: Yeah, I’m really excited about this season, Kevan, because I think there’s … occasionally with this show, I get nervous that we’re trying to describe something that can sound idealistic or utopian, but it’s not, it’s very practical. It’s the principles that designers have been bringing to a new way of working for a while now, and we can adopt those principles and achieve greater engagement, greater buy and healthier organizations.
Veronica: I mean, I love this quote that Bryan Walker, an IDEO Partner and Managing Director, they shared this on Twitter the other day, “We believe people are willing to change, they just don’t want to be changed, they want to be part of shaping their future.”
Kevan: That’s the gift of the time that we’re in. So many projects are afoot, which are about shaping the future. What else is that but an opportunity to invite and involve people into meaningfully making their work more meaningful? There’s that stat that Frederic Laloux references in his book, Reinventing Organizations, he says, “Survey after survey shows that the vast majority of employees are disengaged at work.”
Kevan: He references a 2013 study that says, “Only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work, 63% are not engaged, and 24% are actively disengaged.” But as you saying, these people aren’t barriers, they’re potential partners. It creates an engaged workplace when we make these opportunities for deliberate change-making together.
Veronica: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I’ve been on the receiving end of several, again, at different organizations, several engagement strategies, you know, employment engagement strategies, and they don’t go deep enough if they don’t include meaningful co-creation of your work, your role, the workplace. Where engagement and change management invites me to step in, and to create the future of the organization and the future of my role as a participant in that, that’s hugely successful.
Kevan: This isn’t just a utopian ideal of possibly having better workplaces where people are more involved, it’s that these are the preferred methods of leading through change of any kind, they practically affect measurable factors in our workplaces, they practically impact our operational efficiency and the systems we’re using, they intangibly, but also measurably affect the cultures that we are part of. This is not fictional or far off, these methods exist, this way of working exists, and it starts by just recognizing how you show up.
Veronica: That brings us to the end of our episode today. If you want to explore more about how to bring ourselves to the change-making process, our podcast page has a listing of helpful resources, including an article called How We Show Up. It’s a five minute read, Kevan wrote it, you can find it at Domain7.com/podcast, where you can also explore our cultural and digital services.
Veronica: You can sign up for our newsletter there, and you can follow us on our social channels. That’s Domain7.com/podcast.
Kevan: We would love to hear your ideas and your feedback for this podcast, so please get in touch with us. We’d love to hear from you. I’m Kevan@Domain7.com, and Veronica is, you guessed it, Veronica@Domain7.com. You can also find us on Twitter, our handle is @Domain7.
Kevan: This episode was written by myself and Veronica Collins, and this episode’s producer is Kurt Wilkinson.
Veronica: Our team lead, Sarah Butterworth, helps create the space where thoughtful work, such as this podcast, and the Domain7 culture as a whole provides incredible support.
Veronica: Domain7 is a global agency working to transform systems and culture through people-centric methods. You can learn more about us Domain7.com.
Kevan: To close off our episode, we’ll leave you with this voicemail from Changemakers Challenge Workshop participant, Lara Kehler, who is exploring a little bit about the theme of trust in making organizational change happen.
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