Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Change Agent’s Toolkit: Seven Components of Positive & Sustainable Change

How strange to be pondering a theory of change upon the eve of Advent, a season more generally reserved (in theory, if not in practice) for contemplation, reflection, and silence.  At least it seems strange on the surface.  But just below that smooth meditative surface is the churn, the anticipation, the “hurry-up-I-can’t-take-all-this-waiting” desire for THE change that Advent points us to.  There is no change as remarkable as new life – and for most believers I know who choose to celebrate the season, that new life means transformational change on a global scale.  Really paradigm-shifting, earth-shattering stuff.

And so I am here thinking about such things and what it means practically for people wanting to make a significant positive difference in some small or large way on this planet (or simply in their own little corner of it).  The thoughts that follow are my best practical attempt at this time to articulate my own theory of change.  I include at the end of this post, as my holiday gift to readers, a list of books that have influenced my thinking on this subject and that I recommend heartily for the Change Agents on your gift lists.
Change can and does occur for individuals and organizations all the time without the application of any forethought or intentionality.  Sometimes it makes life better for us, and other times… not so much.  Most of the time, the change acts upon us without any significant impact.  The weather changes constantly (especially if you live in New England!), technology changes frequently, fashions change, and none of the agents responsible for those changes ask us for permission or if we believe in or embrace the changes.  (Well, they didn’t ask me.)  We simply choose to react or not react.

And that is the key: We choose to be active or passive in the context of change in our lives.  Many times the change is in response to an external adjustment to the status quo (such as weather, technology, or fashion trends), and other times it is mission driven.  Either way, the key difference is the decision to be the “Change Agent,” to no longer be a passive recipient but to be an active influencer.  Once an individual or organization has taken on the mantel of Change Agent, it becomes critical to approach the change with tools appropriate for the endeavor.

There are seven basic components that work together toward the goal of positive and sustainable change.  These tools are critically important for individuals or organizations that have chosen to be active agents of change.  They are not linear, and they are not always equal.  In some situations, one component will have far more weight than any other, while in different circumstances, there will be a fluctuation across all components, a give and take throughout a change process.  Yet in every serious change effort, each one of these components will need consideration and application.

Figure 1 shows how these components work together to move the change forward.

Figure 1: Seven Components of Change

Here is what I mean by each of these components:

1.       Specificity.  Identify the area of change in such a way that allows for clear goal-setting.  At a very basic level, defining the goal will let you know when you have met it.  It provides you with the ability to measure your level of attainment and to set new goals.  There is also an aspect of dissatisfaction in this component.  While the most effective Change Agents I know are joyful, they also tend to be constantly dissatisfied.  They see specific things (not vague angst) that can and should be improved, and they set personal goals to improve, constantly raising the bar for themselves and their organizations. 

2.       Belief.  Create and/or check for internal buy-in (within the individuals or groups that are the targeted beneficiaries of the change) that the specified change is necessary and worth the effort.  This includes individuals’ internal belief that they are capable of adjusting their behavior to accommodate the change.  Belief is not always necessary at the beginning of a change effort, but to sustain the change, it is absolutely required. 
3.       Expectation.  Create a sense of positive inevitability and momentum through external sources of encouragement and accountability (community, mentor, teacher, family, and/or friends).  This frequently comes in the form of someone (or some persons or institutions) that have an assumption of attainment, an external belief in the ability to make positive change that supports the internal belief. 

4.       Exposure.  Be open to and seek out opportunities for newness. Change occurs when something new is introduced into the status quo.  Specific changes require targeted exposure, which frequently comes through education, training, and review of leading resources in the topic.  Such exposure can (and frequently will) lead to unexpected opportunities for further goal setting in the specified area of positive change.  It is simply the “Oh, what a great idea, I must try that” effect. It is what incents large organizations to invest heavily in things like benchmarking, research and development, and competitive intelligence.  It is what causes individuals to try a new form of exercise, or a new recipe, or an iPad.  Exposure leads to innovation.

5.       Will.  Fuel the internal fortitude and energy to start something new and see it through.  Will is different from belief – you can believe that something is necessary without possessing the will to make it happen (e.g. most people agree that exercise, a balanced diet, and a smoke-free lifestyle is better than the alternatives, but that belief by itself will not make someone alter behavior).  You can also have the will to make a change without fully buying into its necessity, if external forces and other incentives are strong enough to support it.

6.       Practice.  Create a habit through repetition, ritual, and mindfulness that leads to sustainable lifestyle change.  Take action that will get you closer to your goals. Putting plans into action and celebrating early successes can feed will, belief, and expectation in very positive ways.  But practice is more than taking those important first steps.  Repeatable habits have to be practical, usable, and meaningful. 

7.       Integration.  Engage holistically, integrating mind, body, emotions, and spirit toward the specific positive change.  Achievable and sustainable change is not done in siloes.  In the context of organizational change, integration of the change (particularly if it impacts multiple stakeholders) must occur across teams, departments, and levels.  In this way, all seven change components work together for meaningful, sustainable change.
These components are infinitely applicable, yet may not incorporate all aspects of change that occurs at the micro or macro level.  What have I missed?  Which components ring true for your situation?  How are you preparing for the next big change in your life?  Do share your story of change and expose others to new ways of being a force for positive and sustainable impact. 

My Change Agent Book List
These are just a handful of my muses, those major Change Agents who have inspired, strengthened, and sharpened my thinking on this subject.  I am sure to add to this list over time.  Let me know what books have influenced you in your positive change initiatives and I will add to this list with a credit for the recommendation to you.

Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life by Alan Deutschman

First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't

Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends

The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion by John Hagel III

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Shambhala Library) by Natalie Goldberg

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How a weekend in the woods changed my life

“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” – C.S. Lewis

It was a dark and stormy night. Or perhaps I should say “morning” that turned into a gray and drizzly day.  That was the night/morning that my husband and I crawled out of bed at 3:00 a.m., loaded our luggage into the Land Rover, drove to the airport to get on a commuter plane to switch at another airport to fly half a country away to then drive an hour and a half further to get to the middle of nowhere in the piny woods of Texas. 

Not being a morning person or much of one for travel, the entire relentless time in transport from Maine to Houston, I was thinking, “This better be worth it.”

It was.  The C.S. Lewis Southwest Regional Retreat & Writers Workshop at Camp Allen in Navasota, Texas (October 27 to 30, 2011) was the beginning of something remarkable in my life: friendship.  

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’”  - C.S. Lewis

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I have many dear, close friends who have been “knit to my soul” through years of shared joy, pain, and sheer hilarity.  What is remarkable about the friendships forged through this past week is what is remarkable about all friendship – that moment of recognition, of “You too?” 
What makes the CSL workshop so worthy of remark is the sheer pace and rapidity of those “You too” moments.  I suppose it was to be expected.  The conference drew folks who were there for their love of Jack Lewis and gang (Tolkien, Barfield, other Inklings), and writers who wanted to develop their craft.  How could I not find kindred spirits among such a crowd?

Friendship is always worth a grueling trip.

“You can make anything by writing.” – C.S. Lewis

I am still a bit too close to this event to tell you what it looked like.  It’s sort of like that old fable of five blindfolded people asked to describe an elephant by touch, and they come up with five very different animals.  Sort of like that, but not really.  I can tell you a few specific things I walked away with, ways my life will change as a result.  And that is not nothing.

MiniWriMo. Five hundred words a day for the next thirty days. That is what I have committed to, with accountability, feedback, and support from two other like-minded friends I found lurking among the Texas pines.  It is my version of the vaunted NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month in which writers from around the globe attempt to pour out 50,000 words each toward a draft novel), but I am not going to write a novel and I’m not going to aim for 50,000 words.  Always doing it my way.  I want to use this focused energy and accountability over the next thirty days to flesh out my vision, mission, goals, and values that make up All Nine, my consulting business.

I have sculptor/author/speaker Bridgette Mongeon to thank for this gem.  I attended her session on “Getting Past the Voices in My Head” with expectations of a nice pep talk and walked away with this very practical challenge.  

The whole conference was like that; expecting one thing, getting something altogether different, much more necessary, and terribly practical.

Servant Authorship.  Several speakers spoke on the importance of writing for your reader, but nobody provided a more clear, consistent, and (again) practical message on the matter than Thomas Umstattd, Jr.  Umstattd, owner of Umstattd Media and author of Author Tech Tips, provided a clarion call to view your writing platform as a servant leadership role.  More importantly, he showed how to do this by example.  Over the next month, I intend to reread all my notes from his sessions, imbibe everything he has written on website and e-newsletter design, and do everything he says.  Watch for changes to the All Nine web presence!

Spontaneous bursts of creativity.   One of my favorite moments of the workshop/retreat was the “Villanelle Throw Down” at Bag End (the informal fellowship and sharing of artistic gifts at the end of each night, hosted by Andrew Lazo) on Saturday night.  Earlier in the day, I was chatting with my friend Dr. Holly Ordway about how writing is both a communal and a solitary act, how all writers are responding, reacting, and building upon other writers both past and present.  We talked about how John Keats and Leigh Hunt, two English poets of the Romantic era, would set up little competitions between the two of them for fun. And then it was, “Hey, we can do that! Let’s each write a villanelle and read it at Bag End!” 

And so it was on, and that is what we did between sessions throughout the day, in spite of the fact that I have not rhymed in years (my main focus as a poet lately has been haiku) and Holly has been steeped in sonnets.   The funniest memory is catching us both simultaneously counting our iambic pentameter on our fingers as we were attempting to meet the challenge.

We stood together that night, Holly and I, and as we each read our offerings, I was filled with deep joy.  It was truly a splendid moment of realized spontaneity, and indeed, we both won that throw down.  I intend to throw down more challenges in the not too distant future to unsuspecting friends, for the sheer pleasure of creative spontaneity.

If I had to sum up the whole experience, I would say that I was reminded that anything that matters in life – like friendship, service, leadership, and really solid writing – is worth a bit of trouble, even getting up in the middle of a dark and stormy night.