Of the people, by the people, for the people

Most of us don’t hate change. What we don’t like is when it comes out of the blue, makes no sense, and is done to us, not with us. Drop-kicking change into an organization from the top down can lead to ill-informed, misguided fixes, as well as resentment and victimhood.

While leaders have the responsibility to overcome challenges and drive their organizations to continually improve, that doesn’t mean they must come up with the solutions themselves. The people on the front lines know what’s working and what’s not in ways those one or more levels removed can’t. Better ideas and engagement come with inclusion, and it’s a hierarchy-buster. As Ari Weinzweig says, when the power for change is distributed, “Everyone honors the belief that effective insight and ideas can come from anywhere in the organization and is not tied to hierarchy, seniority or anything else.”

Power to the people at Google and Zingerman’s

Laszlo Bock joined Google in 2006 and headed up the People Operations function for ten years. In Work Rules!, Bock provides an evidence-jammed account of how Google — guided by the defining aspects of their culture: mission, transparency, and voice — created a powerful mindset of people as owners. “Googlers don’t restrict themselves to creating products, they also involve themselves in deciding how we run the company,” he asserted. Instead of the People Operations function finding solutions to problems in their traditional purview, engineers brought solutions for such things as fixing a flawed bonus scheme, and designing feedback surveys to mine the right data. “If you give people freedom, they will amaze you,” Bock marveled.

At Zingerman’s, involving staff in running the business has been a way of life from the get-go. Inspired by Peter Drucker’s wisdom that very few problems in organizations are unique — requiring one-off solutions — and feeling the pain of their own “organizational improv” — each change event being executed with a unique process — they created a simple, clear, and effective set of steps that would work for virtually any kind of change. Bottom Line Change, a Recipe for Organizational Change demands clear intention, feedback, and inclusion. Anyone at Zingerman’s can effect change using it. Below is the “shortcut” version:

Step 1. Why? Write up a clear and compelling reason for the change.

Step 2: What? Draft a positive vision of the future and develop leadership agreement on that vision.

Step 3: Who? Put together a microcosm to best tell everyone who needs to know about the impending change.

Step 4. How? Tell everyone impacted by the change and then have them develop an action plan to implement it.

Step 5. Do! Begin implementing the change.

I’ve used this recipe numerous times with organizations, particularly in establishing vision, mission, and values, and it truly works like a charm. I’ve found there are some critical ingredients:

Ask the right questions. When introducing the vision for a change, Zingerman’s prompts keep feedback on point and manageable: What excites? What falls flat? What’s missing? What’s not strategically sound? What questions do you have? And, after the change has been test-driven, checking in with: what’s working that we want to keep doing? and what would make it better? captures what’s needed for any tweaks.

Decide how to decide. This is critical to maintaining clarity and trust in the process: who decides what, and how? Zingerman’s uses four methods of decision making: Command — leaders tell people what to do, Consultative — leaders invite and listen to input from others, and make the decision themselves, Consensus — those involved come to an agreement, and Delegation — leaders hand off the decision to someone else. Each of these methods has its place. In the vision, mission, values process, consultative decision-making works best.

Embrace resistance. Resistance or dissention is a form of engagement. (By contrast, disengaged people will often just eyeroll and half-heartedly do the thing you’re telling them to do.) The reasons people have for resisting change can inform a better way. Listen to the grumblings instead of trying to convince. Ask questions. Ask for suggestions.

Trust the process. It can sometimes feel like a hot mess in the middle of the process, especially digesting the feedback. Getting comfortable with the sausage-making, and sticking with and trusting the process is key.

I’ve not seen it fail yet, professionally or personally.

Families are people too

Enough is enough. You’re determined to turn all that talk of healthy eating into action:

To the people. You do your research and come up with an action plan to cut out the center aisles of the grocery store, dial up the fruits and veggies, dial down the sugar and salt, and shift from DoorDash to more home-cooking. You tell the family what we’re doing and why, and voila, we’re doing it! Wait, what? No more blueberry pancakes smothered in butter and syrup? No more It’s-Its? No more real chips, we’re going to “enjoy” the cardboard kind? Odds are pretty good you’re gonna have an epic rebellion on your hands.

By the people. You talk to your family about how nutrition’s been on your mind. You share your vision for a healthier us. You ask then what they think, tease out what do we already do that’s pretty healthy as well as what’s in our fridge and cupboards that’s not so good for us. Your family knows a thing or two about good eating, and there’s always that kid at school who has the best lunch that everyone shares — it’s usually home-made and pretty healthy. You invite everyone to throw out ideas and come up with an action plan together — maybe just baby steps at first — cut out the sugary cereal, more home-made meals. Could be fun. Maybe you’ll end up with a family vegetable garden.

Sunday Morning Reflection

Is there something at work or home that needs changing? What’s the compelling reason for the change? What’s your vision of success? Who do you need to involve?

Sunday Morning: 127