Change the conversation

Let’s take an imaginary scenario to illustrate:

You’ve been hired to transform a small company’s software development process. They’re smart enough to have realised that doing things “the old way” puts them at a disadvantage in the market. They’re also smart enough to realise that they don’t know how to get from A to B. Which is why they hired you.

You come in and spend a little while (or maybe a big while) observing, asking, noting and thinking. Now it’s time to present your recommendations. I wonder if this conversation sounds familiar?

You: “We need to move you to an iterative delivery model” (or whatever it is)

Them: “Huh? What’s that?”

You explain.

Them: “That’ll never work here because…”

This is where you need to take control of the conversation and change its direction. But first, listen to the objections and be sure you understand them. Takes notes if necessary. Evaluate the current landscape and the reason you were hired. Make sure you’re solving the right problem. Now take a deep breath and dive in.

You: “This does work. It works everywhere. Let’s have a look at how we make it work for you. Perhaps a good place to start would be the way we talk about this. It’s not something that won’t work for us. It’s something that we are going to make work. We just have to figure out how to pull it off. And while we’re executing on that, the message we give is consistently “we are, we will, we do” and never “we’re doing it but” or “we’re trying but”. In fact let’s ban the use of the word “but” when we talk about this transformation. There are no buts. We’re doing this.”

Ban the but!

Words are powerful. Use that power to help shape the thinking of those you’re guiding, and to help them influence everyone else. (But only use this power for good).

Stomp on conversations that start with “This won’t work because…” or “Yes, but…”. Stop them. Turn them around. “This will work. This does work. Let’s have a look at the challenges and work out how to overcome them”. And there are not buts.

Of course while in this case I’m thinking particularly of Agile transformations, it applies equally elsewhere. Promote a WE WILL mentality, by voicing it loud and often, and getting those around you to do the same. Make it a fait accompli. The rest is just detail. The idea is to instill the feeling that you’ve already won. Starting a change-process from a position of victory is a wonderful thing.

Start with the win.

The postings on this site don’t necessarily represent the views or opinions of my employer, professional organisations, political party, family, car manufacturer or anybody at all, really. I don’t know where they come from. It scares me sometimes.

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I'm a grumpy old fart. I know a lot about leadership, culture & agility, something about wellbeing, and a little about woodworking.

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