I could hardly believe what I just heard. One of my project team members had rushed up to me with a very distressed and unsettled look on his face. He anxiously told me that they canceled our project!
I was shocked to hear what he just said.
As the project leader for one of the organization’s key strategic projects, shouldn’t I have known about this before he did? He must be mistaken.
He had just rushed out of a meeting led by a mysterious person sent in by corporate headquarters. Her exact role was unknown, but there were rumors she would be in charge of this group’s operations in a few months. She was apparently calling together groups of employees sowing distrust and dissent right under the current leader’s nose.
Sadly, this is the shocking activity and behavior that goes on in so many companies. It’s behavior that destroys morale, robs people of their dignity, and deadens the soul.
How many times have you experienced or seen something similar in your career?
How many times have you tried to change your workplace — or found yourself in a companywide transformation process? Did it succeed? Did it last?
As you probably know, this behavior is common and most attempts at change fail. I know this all too well.
This event with my project team member occurred back in 2009 when I was experiencing one of the most satisfying accomplishments of my career. I had just played a leading role in a strategic transformation project for a well-known U.S. corporation. But the satisfaction didn’t last long because politics would soon sideline a celebrated and successful project.
For the third time in my career, a strategic transformation project I’d helped lead to success came to an abrupt and sudden end. A new executive stepped in to replace the leadership team, and this project was no longer a priority. They wasted all the hard work and commitment by so many people over the previous 18 months.
Unfortunately, this is all too common occurrence in too many workplaces.
A Better Way?
After experiencing my third heartbreaking end to an organizational change initiative, I looked for a better way to transform and improve organizations. But how?
As Tom Thomison, a leading voice on Holacracy said in my interview with him:
“How do we start? By making it real for ourselves first.”
To make it real, I interviewed leading change practitioners and other experts in a series I called 5 Minutes to Process Improvement Success. I asked, “What is your best improvement strategy?”
Remarkably, I rarely got an answer about process improvement. People didn’t talk about Agile, CMMI, Lean, Six Sigma or the latest silver-bullet solution.
Instead, they talked about something deeper: about trust, reflection, new questions, new leadership, understanding the status quo and much more. People shared fascinating and surprising new strategies and insights with me.
I published 23 of those interviews in a book called 5 Minutes to Process Improvement Success. A review by David Marquet, leadership expert and author of Turn the Ship Around, is typical of the feedback:
“Most topics have multiple valid perspectives. A diversity of opinion allows me to see sides of an issue I’d missed, allows my organization to be more resilient when one approach isn’t working and allows a more nuanced implementation of initiatives. This is EXACTLY what you get with this book.”
After 50 interviews, I discontinued the 5 Minutes to Process Improvement series because it wasn’t about process improvement. Something else seemed to happen, and I needed time to reflect on it.
In fact, conducting those 50 interviews was so powerful that it triggered my own inner transformation. My mind became noticeably quieter. I became a better listener. I was less reactive to my circumstances. I also realized there was an enormous power in my intentions — and in the questions those intentions led me to ask.
These inner changes allowed me to have a new conversation. As I became less judgmental, more open and a better listener, people seemed to feel freer and safer, and they shared deeper insights with me.
I was experiencing what Michael Neill, transformational coach and author of The Inside-Out Revolution and five other books, describes in my interview with him:
“A good meeting is a meeting where everyone is listening, and there is space to hear something new beyond what anyone brought into the room with them.”
I also knew how rare that was in the workplace. And I recognized that I and so many others felt like aliens at work.
On the surface, we may have seemed happy, committed and motivated. But look a little deeper, and there was more unease and dissatisfaction than most of us will admit.
Questions that Open Up New Pathways
Because of the deep and pervasive need for transformation in most workplaces—along with the changes occurring within me and the kinds of insights people were now eager to share—I came up with a new series of interview questions.
With that, the Exploring Forward-Thinking Workplaces interview series was underway.
I wasn’t sure these questions would work, so I did an experiment: I selected three very successful executives and thought leaders to see if they would answer my new questions. To my surprise, they enthusiastically embraced them and shared intriguing insights and wisdom.
A collection of 30 of the interviews was published by Apress in October 2019. You can learn more at The Future of the Workplace book website.
As always, I welcome any feedback or suggestions that may come up from reading my newsletters.
Until next time, to your forward thinking life & successs!
Bill Fox, Founder at Forward Thinking Pro