James Shore on his bottom-up approach to effect organizational change:
I am able to introduce new ideas when people trust me.
That’s it! It’s as simple as that. When people trust me, I’ve been successful. It hasn’t even been hard. And when people don’t trust me, no amount of cajoling, persuading, beating with sticks, etc., will make a difference.
There is no change
It took me several years to realize this, but now I believe that the Way to Change is No-Change.
Seriously, though… I no longer approach my work from the standpoint of “I’m here to Change Things.” Instead, I’m interested in showing people ideas, seeing what they think, talking about alternatives, listening to experiences, etc.
If it turns out that people don’t think the ideas will work for them, that’s fine. I’ll be disappointed, yes. If I feel that people haven’t given the ideas a fair chance, I’ll push them to be more open-minded. If I’ve been hired to introduce the ideas, I’ll talk with the folks that hired me about our alternatives. But I’m not going to try to force people to do something they don’t agree with.
“Being respectful,” by the way, doesn’t mean “being friendly.” Sure, I’m friendly… to the best of my ability… but more importantly, I’m don’t think of others as incompetent. I look at problems and think, “There must be a reason things are the way they are.” I find out what people are good at and think, “Everybody here is responding to the situation to the best of their ability.”
This attitude, which I think some people call “Assume Positive Intent,” has served me very well. I’m particularly fond of using it when I’m being attacked by questions: rather than respond defensively, I assume that the questioner wants information, and I respond straightforwardly, without malice.
If I see people struggling with something, or simply discussing ideas, I’ll ask if I can share my thoughts. Sometimes I’ll ask if I can lead–for example, I recently worked with a team that was doing a retrospective. I hadn’t been hired to help them with retrospectives, but I could see they were struggling with it a bit. I told the team that I had an idea for the retrospective and asked if they’d like me to lead them through it. They agreed, so I did.
By the way, this isn’t a “fake” sort of permission in which I’m assume the answer will be “yes.” It’s funny–I can’t remember the last time somebody said “no” when I asked permission like this. But maybe that’s because “no” is a non-event. I’m not asking permission as a disguise for saying “Let me show you how it’s done.” I’m just offering to help out. If somebody says no, I’m okay with that, too.
My wife, after reading this, said, “It’s all about respect, isn’t it?” Yes, it is. That’s the best way I know to earn trust.