May 17, 2007

Getting Beyond "Yes, but" When We Talk about Change

And now Edgar's gone... something's going on around here
"And now Edgar's gone... something's going on around here"

Manu, via flickr (Creative Commons license)

All too often people and organizations don't see the need for change. They don't correctly identify what to do, or successfully make it happen, or make it stick. Businesses don't. School systems don't. Nations don't. (Our Iceberg is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions, (p. 3)

Our Iceberg is Melting book cover
Just like the penguin colony in Our Iceberg is Melting, the Library's place in the information landscape is melting, too. Many librarians are being confronted with the fact that the world as we know it has shifted and still is shifting dramatically. Our iceberg, and along with it our sense of complacency, is fracturing. This story describes how different penguins respond and try to make sense of the reports that their iceberg is melting. It also outlines a process for doing something about what you see.

Making sense of information and then acting on it requires not one brain process, but several. Presenting the facts is not always enough. David Snowden writes that "in sense-making we distinguish three elements.
  1. Do we see the data?
  2. Do we pay attention to the data?
  3. Can we act, or get others to act on the data".
    (Dave Snowden, "SEE-ATTEND-ACT")

Just in case you think seeing and attending are the same, take a moment to check out these videos that put that belief to rest: Colour Changing Card Trick and "Do You See the Gorilla?"(video uses Java applet).

If you think that using a story to teach about change is silly, invalid, or too trivial for words, pause for just a moment. The story is based on John Kotter, Havard Business School professor's research on change which is also published in two books: Leading Change and The Heart of Change. Read whichever version you prefer to help you learn about the process of successful change.

Keep in mind, however, that stories have power and a way of engaging people in conversation and sticking with them long after the final page of the book is read. Stories involve both our head and our hearts. When it comes to change, we often focus on the head -- the facts and figures -- and miss out on the heart and the importance of creating the urgency to act and optimism for what might be.

And, the fact is, after reading this tale, we can spot the cast of characters all around us. Most of us have a Fred, Alice, Louis, Buddy, the Professor, and NoNo working with us. News of a major change impacting our library hits all of us in some pretty typical and predictable ways. "Melting icebergs come in dozens of forms: product lines that are aging, schools that are becoming irrelevant, services that are decreasing in quality, a business strategy that makes increasingly little sense, a new strategy whose implementation is sinking into the ocean." (p. 129)

Whether you're doing your own environment scan, observing, learning and putting the pieces together, reading OCLC reports like their 2003 Environmental Scan: Pattern Recognition or Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources (2005) or reading articles or blogs, you'll be confronted with lots of signs that the library iceberg is fracturing.

Despite being confronted with all this data, some people don't seem to pay attention or to act upon it. We see a whole range of responses, including:

  • Some respond to an in depth study or to the findings of an environmental scan by saying "well that's all very fine and good, but ..." and rattle off one instance when it isn't so. Well we still shoe horses, but in my province we no longer have more horses than people (1 million) and there's not many farriers minding the store in 2007.
  • Some are digesting what they hear and they keep on digesting and digesting. They pay attention but don't move to action.
  • Some want to spend hours debating the methodology, phrasing of the question, and findings of the studies, reports and trends (as a Data Librarian these debates are near and dear to my heart :-) )
  • Some just shut down at the first mention of numbers and hide their head in the sand till it's over
  • Some are skeptical but not hostile. Skepticism can be useful and refine the debate
  • Some decide before the meeting that the new info being presented has nothing to do with them, and it's time for a nap
  • Some try to grasp what the Library 2.0 buzz and changing information landscape is all about, but can't figure out the import of all the facts and then their head hurts
  • Some have the view "you can't tell me anything, I'm the expert"
  • Some are convinced that anyone raising this information must be completely off the wall
  • Some immediately grasp the facts, pay attention to it, and want to act. They can feel frustrated when others don't "get it"

Some of the thought leaders in libraries thinking about change are like Fred, the penguin who is monitoring the world around him and spots the problem with the iceberg. Not all penguins can or should be like Fred -- can you imagine working in a team with 20 Freds? I recently went to a meeting with 8+ IT people who do requirements analysis much of the time. They were trying to set up a simple email form for their membership. At first, I was awestruck by how well they articulated and identified the requirements. I was picking up pointers and new ideas for my next project, but soon my head hurt as they each wanted to help clarify finer and finer points and each had to personally confirm that the requirements were clear from their point of view. Now I'm a big fan of requirements analysis but eight of them doing this exercise for most of the meeting was a wee bit of overkill.

Fred is a curious, observant and creative penguin, who thinks outside the box. Fred scans the horizon trying to understand more than just the day to day business of fishing, nesting, mating and living. Fred spots the problem with the iceberg. Feeling some trepidation, Fred decides to share his insights and sounds a wake up call that the iceberg is melting! Alice, another penguin on the Leadership Council, listens to Fred and pays attention to what is happening. Then, after looking it over carefully, she agrees with Fred. Alice is action oriented, pragmatic and impatient. She wants everyone to get on board now and start solving the problem. She feels the urgency to act very deeply.

Who thinks that they are like Alice?

Keep in mind we're probably like all of these characters at different moments. Some days we may be Fred, Alice or even NoNo.

Holger Rathgeber collaborated with John Kotter to write this book based on a training exercise about a penguin colony. By telling the story, John and Holger bring the 8 Step Process of Successful Change Management to life. The steps are:

  1. Create a sense of urgency.

  2. Pull together the guiding team.

  3. Develop the change vision and strategy.

  4. Communicate for understanding and buy in.

  5. Empower others to act.

  6. Produce short-term wins.

  7. Don't let up.

  8. Create a new culture. (p. 130)

The book concludes with a short section about thinking and feeling:
Thinking differently can help change behaviour and lead to better results.
Feeling can change behaviour MORE and lead to even better results. (p. 132)

[Those that] handle the challenge of change well, can prosper greatly. Handle it poorly, and you put yourself and others at risk. (p. 3)

Libraries and librarians are resilient and have weathered many changes. If we gather our data, pay attention and are action oriented, we have the energy, passion and vision to succeed under our current conditions.

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