Answers or Questions?

We all want answers, right? Well, sometimes, but I contend that there are more occasions than not when questions are more important and, as an aid to finding our own “answers”, provide a more effective platform for change, whether in business or in our personal lives.

There seems to be something about organisations that makes them static, afraid of change and in the worst cases, moribund. It is not unusual for a senior manager or director to recognise problems and decree that a change programme will be initiated to solve the problem. But I think their definition of solving the problem can be part of the problem in the first place. Executives aren’t renowned for their patience and attention to detail; they are achievers, doers, movers and shakers. They typically want the solution to the lack of performance, cost overrun, poor morale and, assuming that their poor failing minions aren’t up to the task, tend to look outside and bring in “the expert”.

In my experience bringing in the expert results in learning about one thing and one thing only. Namely, that whenever the organisation has a problem, it has to bring in outside help to solve it. This reinforces the belief that the organisation is incapable of solving its own problems (but can run a great operation, once someone else puts things right. Typically by a restructure, new IT, new managers, new performance targets… etc).

Along with a couple of colleagues, I have recently completed some exciting work with five Welsh Councils. The work was deemed a great success by all concerned and we produced some case studies. They tell a fair and (I think) true story about what we did together, what we achieved and what the Councils are going to do next.

Sharing this success story is very gratifying but, and there is always a but, most people reading just want to know the answer. I believe that the greatest success story is that each Council learned to make its own decisions about what to do in a way that worked for the organisation, the staff and, most importantly their customers. Each Council was different, with different pressures, resources, personalities, to name but a few factors. What they had in common was a desire to make things better. To do this they did not employ an “expert” in their service area but worked with ICE practitioners who helped them leverage their own expertise.

We worked with managers and front line staff to help them understand their current system, both how it worked and why it was this way. ICE did not map out the system, rather, we helped the Council staff to do this themselves. We introduced theory, supported practical learning, guided and coached. This opened their eyes to new ways of working. The Council teams worked hard over a number of weeks then stopped and told their story to their colleagues, bosses, directors and other stakeholders.

So my question is this: “Do you want the answer, or do you want to learn new skills, take control of your own future and shape it accordingly?” The latter requires leaders to be brave and accept that searching for better ways of working can challenge more than the technical work designs and that they need to roll up their sleeves and help the real experts, their colleagues, on the front line.

Do share your experience of change. That way we all learn.

Thanks for reading


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