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Nov 29, 2010



Hi Evelyn,

This is a really great post! It is near and dear to my heart. I could write a book of things I have done as a Project Leader in Corporate America to knock people and cultural norms out of their comfort zone. I will give a team example here.


Regarding free association, I have used a process called the "Six Thinking Hats" to find creative solutions to a problem. However, I have altered the process as it is normally taught. Each Hat designates a phase of the process. The one I use is as follows:

Blue Hat - Organize the meeting roles (e.g., Recorder, Timekeeper, etc.)
White Hat - What is needed? Background Information is provided.
Green Hat - Generate Multiple Solutions (Brainstorm)
Yellow Hat - Benefits of Each Solution
Red Hat - Feelings & Intuition about each alternative
Black Hat - Decision Making/Voting

This works really well, and I have used it A LOT. The Green Hat phase is the free association phase that is to generate every possible input no matter how ridiculous. I usually start the brainstorming process by giving the null solution which is don't do anything. That tends to knock the participants into a creative zone, because the usual assumption is that we HAVE TO DO something!

We list everything no matter how wild. I will take pieces of solutions and combine them with something new to keep the juices flowing. This part is really fun.

Because I work with very analytical engineering, business analyst, and developer roles, their tendency is to want to analyze all the reasons the specific offerings won't work. Also, they tend to be highly opinionated.

So, that is where the Yellow Hat comes in. I force them to tell me what is positive about each potential solution. We have horn blowers with actual bicycle horns and if someone starts to negate a solution they get the horn! It is funny! I have even blown the horn on myself. What this tends to do is open the group to possibilities in their thinking. Analytical types tend to dissect and find fault with solutions in their thinking first, so this moves them out of that mode to become more possibility oriented.

By the time we get to the red and black hats, it is almost always the case that everyone has moved on their previous positions.... changed their minds because they were forced to weigh the merits of the brainstormed solutions.

Typically (not always), we end up in a place where none of the proposed solutions are selected. Instead, the team usually takes the best pieces and parts of some of the potential solutions and weave them into a totally new solution. And here is the best part, they end up working together to pick what is the BEST parts and create TOGETHER a new solution not previously conceived.

This works like a champ. It slows people down, knocks them out of their thinking paradigms, and therefore something new can emerge.


In my career, I have found myself at the center of changing cultural norms. The current company I work for has a group of leaders (typically sales) who ran the show based on the fact that they were considered strong leaders in charge and delivered significant sales results. They were not challenged, and what they said went.

Behind the scenes people would grumble and give their power away to these leaders for fear of not fitting in or advancing their careers.

The history of the culture is that Operations and Technology would implement new systems and business processes and these field leaders would partially comply or not comply at all wasting time, money, and resources implementing new systems and process not getting the desired results.

I came along from outside this culture to lead a team to design, develop, and deploy a new process enabled by system changes. We discovered through data mining & analysis that the current systems and processes were not being fully utilized to a greater or lesser extent depending on the location. It gets worse. Not only was it totally provable that they weren't following business processes certain high level leaders were standing in front of Executive Leadership and telling them that they were complying with system and process usage. In the past that would have been the end of it.

We were heading down the same old path of spending BIG BUCKS for no gain or positive change. So, what I did is I had the team compile data that pointed to the truth of usage by mining data from the systems. I picked a couple of simple usage metrics, and published the results of the data mining for each district location ranking them by highest to lowest users to display actual behavior. All I did was post and send out the data. I did not judge them. I did not argue with them. I did not say they were bad people, I just sent out an email to all the leaders in North American including Senior and Executive Management and waited.

My goodness, you would have thought that I shot them through the heart with an arrow. They railed, they resisted, they argued, and they got angry with me and my manager. The found fault, nit picked, complained, etc... It was too late. The truth was out. The sponsoring Senior Leader asked certain V.P.s why they lied about their usage and compliance. That kicked open the door on an old paradigm. From their, Executive Management tied system usage and commission, and that was the death knell for this cultural norm. Now so many other groups and programs are now doing it, and we are doing a better job of managing the business. It also brings problems to the surface and things we missed so they can be addressed and improved. So, we are accountable as well which helps justify improvements.

I call this Open Kimono. By taking something simple and bringing in front of everyone's attention, behavior changed and cultural norms began to pass away.


One more cultural norm buster...

What typically happens in our corporate culture is that associates especially field leaders are trying to be seen as having their ducks in a row and reliable leaders according to what is expected.

What happens in the world of more for less (less people due to layoffs) is that these large projects get deployed to the field and then the problems internalizing the changes in the field occur. Then the victim mentality comes to the surface and says "look at what you did to me!"

Corporate then scrambles to fix things and close the gaps and it is a push pull relationship primarily based on resistance to change using the victim role strategy although I have to say that a new way of doing projects is also needed.

So, I said enough of the big huge bohunking project and let's go grass roots and find out what is really going on to see if we can help at a local level. A great book about how this works is "Switch" by Chip & Dan Heath.

Anyway, in one instance, we picked what appeared to be a resistant and noncompliant district location and launched a project. We performed what is called a Murphy Analysis (Six Sigma Tool) to flush out all the issues and complaints. Shew! For a day and half we caught volumes of complaints. Then we did another process called an input\output analysis to see what inputs were affecting the outputs and which ones we could control. That revealed the misses locally. Then we went to data mining again and discovered what the behavior was under the covers.

I built the case for what they weren't understanding or doing based on the above, and I met with the local leaders. After I presented the information I employed the "nonresistance" tactic. I asked them if they wanted to proceed with a project to fix and if so what did they want to take on.

I went on to say, you can elect to do nothing, and that is perfectly fine, I will move on to other locations. I told them if they did want to move ahead then we would work together, and our role would be to support them as much as possible.

What I did was take away the push strategy that they could resist or push back against. Talk about blowing some minds. They have no idea what to do with it. I don't go where they don't want to go. It really put them in a quandary. They couldn't complain that we were hammering solutions down their throats. Also, they were facing the possibility that we just leave and not help them which was no good either.

We continue to move forward albeit slowly.

There is much more, but I will leave it there.

Great Stuff!


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