41. Make Organizational Change Stick

December 19, 2017

In our industry, change is inevitable and today on the podcast we are going to be talking about how to make organizational change stick. When you try to make changes in an organization, it could be very difficult from the top down and from the bottom up. wOften it’s hard enough to make the change to begin with and getting your team fully on board and invested is often a big challenge. So in this episode, we will be talking about ways to make it easier for you. We’ll be discussing the strategies for making change stick; including how to build trust amongst your team, celebrating incremental changes and how to get your team aligned with your goals. If you’re trying to implement change in area of your work place, no matter how big or how small, this episode is for you.

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Addressing the scale of changes in an organization.
  • How to instil and build trust in your team.
  • Ensuring that your team is aligned with your goals.
  • Why we should always meet with people one on one.
  • Getting the biggest influencer on your team to agree.
  • Big bang changes versus incremental changes.
  • The biggest challenges with trying to implement change.
  • Would you hold a plank for a team update?
  • Creating periodic wins to maintain momentum.
  • Why you really need a buy in from the top down.
  • Is the industry bad at writing longstanding software?
  • And much more!

Transcript for Episode 41. Make Organizational Change Stick

[0:00:01.9] MN: Hello and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developer’s podcast in fantabulous Chelsey Manhattan. I’m your host, Michael Nunez. My cohost today.

[0:00:10.3] DA: Dave Anderson.

[0:00:11.7] MN: Our producer.

[0:00:12.3] WJ: William Jeffries.

[0:00:13.4] MN: Today, we’ll be talking about making organizational change stick. I imagine, when you try to make changes in the organization, it could be very difficult from the top down and from the bottom up and we’ll be talking about ways to make it more easy for you to do that.

[0:00:29.5] DA: I mean, it’s just like hard enough to make the change to begin with, it could be a podcast in itself I guess, but to make it actually stick and last is another thing entirely. Especially if you know, maybe you move on to a different team or what have you. How do you ensure that that continues on and makes a lasting impact on everyone?

[0:00:50.8] WJ: It’s glue guys, you use glue.

[0:00:52.2] MN: Elmer’s glue, the good old fashioned Elmer’s glue, bring that with you to the client.

[0:00:58.6] DA: Sticky change.

[0:00:59.9] MN: Oh yeah. Let’s talk about the scale of changes that we would want to make in an organization? Let’s start small in this particular example.

[0:01:08.8] WJ: Well, there is like little stuff that you would do on an individual team, right? Like making your standups shorter or getting people to pair more.

[0:01:19.4] MN: Right. I mean, those are like really small or team based, maybe even just like individuals within the team. It could be something one on one, like having more one on one is something that you would have with just an individual on the team and they’re making stand-ups more efficient by making them shorter, it could be a way to make the entire team participate in this change.

Then we can go higher up from the team and then like the entire, or maybe that the department — do you have any ideas of like the department changes you would want to influence?

[0:01:54.4] WJ: Yeah, I mean, within tech and product, having better agile practices like, doing planning meetings, doing retro’s, that kind of thing.

[0:02:02.9] DA: Yeah, like just having a clearer vision about where you’re going with things, like to avoid, you know, changing directions too often or maybe not having a direction at all, making a lot of little things happen at once.

[0:02:16.6] WJ: Yeah, focus, getting into a groove and sticking with a particular course.

[0:02:21.0] MN: It’s that word again, stick, bring the glue. I know that there are certain organizations that may not bode well with trust when I feel like that is something that that’s a change that you as the individual should definitely influence your team and your company to trust each other and getting the work done.

Because a lot of the times you could be at a place that’s just like, “Get this out now, don’t stay till 9 o’clock” or whatever. Trust is very important, which is like a change that should happen company wide.

[0:02:52.3] DA: Yeah, that’s pretty challenging. Trust, in particular, I mean, this is kind of a digression but you have to give trust in order to get trust., How do you even do that? How do you hit the reset button?

[0:03:03.9] MN: Yeah, I have to trust you and you have to trust me, so we’ll trust together as a team and as a company.

[0:03:11.1] DA: Yeah, but then, you know, even if you do make that big leap to actually get the trust then how do you deal with the fact that it may not stick? Like it may lose some energy or like you may kind of start to fall back to your old way of doing things?

[0:03:29.6] MN: I think like the trust between two individuals would be able to – like if someone is falling back to old habits or doing things incorrectly.

[0:03:39.6] WJ: I keep thinking you guys are going to start talking about trust falls.

[0:03:43.1] MN: No, I mean… Well, it’s kind of like that.

[0:03:45.7] WJ: You got to catch him, that’s the key. If you don’t’ catch him, it doesn’t work.

[0:03:49.2] MN: It doesn’t work, you got to catch Bobby when he falls back. But if someone is like, you know, breaking or doing something wrong, you have to have enough trust in the other individual to call you out on it and the other individual has to have enough trust to be able to call you out on something.

That way, like the respect and trust that happens with that will ultimately lead to honest feedback that will make the team better which again, I mean, the only way it works is if you catch the person who is falling, if you don’t, that person’s going to be highly upset.

[0:04:23.3] WJ: I have a theory about how to build trust. I think that there are really two key ingredients, one of them is respect. You have to genuinely respect the other person and that could be hard even sometimes you have to find something – some particular way that you can respect them without having to like them, but just be able to tolerate them as a human.

Then the other is, having it come and go, you need to actually be working toward a common goal, if you are working at opposing goals, then there is no reason to trust the other person because they are not on your team.

[0:04:48.4] MN: Right.

[0:04:49.1] DA: Yeah, that’s a good point.

[0:04:49.7] WJ: That’s a kind of a tangent.

[0:04:51.5] DA: Yeah. Just having that alignment among teams, among different parts of the organization to make sure that they’re again, like hitting in the right direction together.

[0:05:02.5] WJ: Right, if you are in dev and your goal is to ship features and your colleague is in ops and his goal is to maintain a stable environment, you got to be working with us. You have to appeal to some higher objective. I think we talked about this on another podcast. For example, doubling the size of the user base, that’s the thing that both people can get behind.

You know, dev’s going to contribute by adding the feature in, ops is going to contribute by keeping things stable but they’re going to have to work together in order to double the number of users. Doing one or the other is not enough to get there.

[0:05:35.1] MN: Right.

[0:05:36.2] DA: Right. Sometimes you can test a situation where there’s like conflicting goals of words, like, I want to double the number of users as well but I can’t double the number of users because I need to replace the database because everything’s going to explode if we do that.

There’s like kind of times when things are not going to align completely but you still need to have some trust across the team.

[0:06:00.0] MN: You guys are touching upon a particular road block that can happen when you’re trying to influence an organizational change and that is like making sure that your team is aligned with your goals and what you’re trying to change.

[0:06:14.5] DA: Yeah.

[0:06:15.5] WJ: Yeah, you need buy in.

[0:06:16.4] MN: Right, do you guys have any other roadblocks that you have seen on the field in terms of changing something within the organization?

[0:06:23.9] DA: I mean, I guess like if the team structure changes, if you have people that are like really still aren’t believers in the change and then they move to a different team or they leave the company, then that can leave a vacuum that you know, could result in more change and maybe not the change that you ideally wanted.

[0:06:43.6] WJ: Yeah, you need to build a coalition because there are always going to be allies in there and there are always going to be detractors. If you don’t manage the detractors, then your initiative is deemed to fail.

One thing you can do that I think is really effective is meet with people one on one before you meet with them in a group. If you meet with them in a group then the detractors can hijack the whole conversation.

If you meet with people one on one, you can use different approaches to present the vision and make sure that everybody sees it fully before they meet all together and then everybody comes prepared and has enough perspective to be able to really debate the thing on its merits. Your allies in pushing for that change are better prepared to push back against the points that the naysayers have.

[0:07:30.7] DA: Right, yeah. You can also just – it’s easier to have a conversation when you’re one on one and you’re kind of doing that kind of – I mean, I guess it’s networking like as a technical term but it’s more intimate than that, you’re trying to like get an understanding for what their opinions and feelings on a topic are and you know, see maybe if you understood the problem correctly and if the solution that you have in mind maybe the right one.

[0:07:59.0] WJ: yeah, some people might have a very specific concern that you could address with them offline and then it doesn’t have to come up in a big conversation and detract from the vision. Because if you address it beforehand and then other people know the answer.

[0:08:11.8] DA: Yeah, pretty easy for things to snowball and small concerns to become larger.

[0:08:18.8] MN: The one on one’s are very effective in trying to find out, A, who are the allies and who are – what was the word you used William?

[0:08:27.6] WJ: Naysayer, detractor.

[0:08:28.3] MN: The detractor. Then you can also as you guys mentioned, find out why they’re detracting to the idea in the first place to figure out like whether it’s honest, uncomfortable for the individual to participate in whatever change you’re trying to make.

[0:08:44.4] DA: Right, by building a network like that then there’s no single person that if they leave then that idea and change goes with them, you can have a little broader support for an organization.

[0:08:59.4] MN: I feel like in the one on one example you guys provided, I find it like if I want to influence a change within the team, I would have to find the person with the most influence within the team and get that person to buy it. Like, Dave, as you mentioned, that’s probably like the beginning of the snowball if it happens.

Because you got someone who – as consultants, you have to build up trust but if you can influence the person with the most trust along the team to agree with you then everyone would kind of move forward in that direction in that change.

[0:09:34.9] DA: yeah, definitely. I really like this one talk by Esther Derby about six rules for change which kind of goes through a lot of the things that we’re talking about here. I guess, one of the things that she talks about is like understanding the situation for what it is and what kind of changes are possible.

Also, realizing that you’re not going to be able to make the big bang change that you want to make, you might need to make incremental changes and make sure that it’s defused through the organization that you’re going.

[0:10:07.3] MN: Interesting. By having like small victories, will lead into the big change but you can’t just go and expect to change everything all at once.

[0:10:16.0] DA: Right, you can’t just be like okay, “Trust everyone now.”

[0:10:21.5] MN: “You must trust everyone now, starting now.”

[0:10:25.1] DA: And fall. Wait, there’s Patrick, no.

[0:10:28.6] MN: No. Cool, yeah. I think you mentioned that there six steps and that was one of many of just like gaining trust in small wins?

[0:10:40.4] DA: I really smashed all the stuff together but we can discretely go through some of this steps.

[0:10:46.4] MN: No, I think we’ve been talking about it and then you bringing up the Esther Derby article, definitely it reflects a lot of that which is like you know, building trust and respecting people’s ideas and figuring out ways to get the small victories so that you have a back log of victories so that when you do have changes, it comes from someone who has done some incremental changes and positive effects to the team, to the company.

[0:11:13.3] DA: Right, yeah.

[0:11:14.1] MN: What are some of the challenges you guys seen when trying to influence change?

[0:11:19.3] WJ: I think people tend to clarify too soon. It’s really easy to get excited about the progress that you’ve made and you I know, have a toast, throw a party and it turns into a great opportunity for detractors to come and say, “Wonderful, we’ve succeeded, let’s move on, focus our attention on other things” and little does anybody notice that we rolled back.

[0:11:41.5] DA: Right, yeah. I mean, going back to like the standup example, it’s really easy to move that thing by measuring it, right? As they say. You get on a timer, you measure it, you get down to like a pretty low score and you’re like, alright, this is the fastest standup we ever had, we’ve declared victory, let’s move on.

You know, before you know it, you’re back to like a 15 minute stand-upper.

[0:12:07.9] MN: Standing for 15 minutes is no bueno.

[0:12:13.0] WJ: Planking updates?

[0:12:14.0] DA: Yeah, planking, I like that idea, whenever you give an update, you need to plank.

[0:12:19.7] MN: Has that been an organizational change you’ve made within a company?

[0:12:24.9] WJ: Man.

[0:12:25.2] MN: It’s always a threat I think. Do you want to do it? That’s the thing.

[0:12:29.9] DA: You know, I would love to plank and I can give a short update.

[0:12:34.0] WJ: Do you really think that you could hold a plank for like three minutes though while your entire team gives an update?

[0:12:38.6] DA: No, not the entire – for the entire team? No.

[0:12:41.9] MN: You got to be planking while other people are giving their updates.

[0:12:44.6] WJ: That’s like maybe, you get a 45 seconds standup.

[0:12:48.0] MN: Yeah.

[0:12:49.1] WJ: Planking the whole time.

[0:12:52.1] DA: I thought it would just be each person planking for the duration of their update. If they don’t want to plank for that long then they need to go quickly. Maybe like your average developer’s plank is going to be 45 seconds. Unless they’re like a yoga master. I think we have some yoga masters.

[0:13:15.3] MN: I’m definitely not one of t hem and that is not an organizational change I’m going to make any time soon.

[0:13:21.8] WJ: I am a certified yoga master and I cannot plank for 45 seconds.

[0:13:27.8] DA: I don’t know, can I get that court sing?

[0:13:30.6] MN: I have to figure out, I got a one on one with every individual on my team and tell them that planking during standup is the way to go. Got to find some people who are really excited for that because they’re also tired of 15-minute standups and they’re looking for a healthy lifestyle.

I can get that person to buy in and one on one with each other individual, figure out who are the nay or the detractors of this which is big, believe me. Pulling yourself right. Which may be a challenge in itself. In order to make a change, you need to respect what you want too. It’s going to be like hard to sell it.

Yeah, it’s going to be a really difficult sell but like I mean, even as I’m going through like this example that is kind of whacky, the steps you have to take are you know, figure out someone, it’s not just like, “I want to make this change and I’m going to make this change in this company.”

You have to kind of speak to everyone, see if everyone’s okay with it, why they’re okay with it, why were they not? Because in the end, everyone has to abide by it and if you want your planking standup to exist after you, you have to make sure that everyone’s interested in doing it in the first place.

[0:14:39.8] WJ: Yeah, I think this is a really common pitfall is underestimating the size of the coalition that’s necessary in order to make the change happen. You need to shop your idea around to a bunch of people to work out all the kinks and then only then create vision that you cha pitch to people and really sell it.

Create periodic wins that you can point to, to maintain that organizational momentum. I mean, for a thing like standup but I don’t think it’s that hard because you really only have to affect one team. If you’re working at like a 10,000 person company, you don’t have to get buy in around a massive initiative, like I don’t know, rewriting your entire code base.

[0:15:17.4] MN: Right.

[0:15:18.1] DA: Yeah, you really need a buy in from the top down, it has to be very clear what benefits are going to be there from the business and the technical side. You need a CTO who is going to be willing to really go to bat and take the hit for that kind of initiative. You can’t kind of waffle on it.

[0:15:38.1] WJ: And the people who report to them need to be on board with it and the people who report to them need to be on board with it and so on all the way down.

[0:15:43.7] DA: Yeah, definitely.

[0:15:44.9] MN: But I do think the – I mean, to me it sounds really like, if you work at a 10,000 person company, it sounds like “My god, you’re so far away from the CTO to make this organizational change” but I’m going, circling back into that Esther Derby article, if you have the small wins within the team in like, you know, refactoring or restructuring the application, then the entire company will see that this team is progressing very well and the changes that are happening.

It starts from the bottom up and then works its way up down at the same time because you know, you get, you’re seen by your company or CTO, whatever and they see you – the team is doing a good job because of these changes.

When you ask for refactor of a particular part of the code base, they’re like “Yeah, this scene has been rocking, this particular product needs a new face lift and this is the perfect team to take care of it.” I think you know, don’t be discouraged by how far you would have to go to make the change, every small victory leads to that really big one.

[0:16:48.8] WJ: Yeah, I see a lot of rewrites in industry, I think, we’re just bad at – as an industry, we are bad at writing software that’s going to last forever, probably because that’s just not a thing that you can ever really do. I mean, I guess there’s some mainframes and finance that are still running on cabal.

[0:17:07.5] DA: But if they could, they would tell everybody. If they weren’t like, terrified of that change.

[0:17:11.9] MN: Yeah.

[0:17:14.2] WJ: Yeah, when you go to rewrite a massive piece of software for a very large company, what you’re talking about is an initiative that’s going to last for literally years. There’s just a different mindset.

[0:17:27.3] DA: It’s like setting a new base for the future. Are you writing a Greenfield app or are you writing a new, someone else’s like, tomorrow’s Brownfield app.

[0:17:36.7] MN: Right.

[0:17:38.8] DA: Brownfield 2.0.

[0:17:42.0] WJ: I think the problem is people are like, “Okay, we know we need to do it so let’s just do it and we make – we’ll set up a team and that team will be sheltered from all of the other responsibilities that engineering normally has and will have them just go off and rewrite this thing,” and lo and behold, six months into a three year project, everybody has lost the stomach because there’s demand for those engineers and other places and everybody’s got their own rice bowl they’re trying to protect. You know.

X department needs Y feature and Z manager has you know, item’s one, two and three that still needs to get checked off.

[0:18:17.9] MN: Right. Yeah, it is very extensive when you have to – at the end of the day so that change is very impactful to the organization.

[0:18:25.8] WJ: That’s why I think you need those periodic wins. Because if people aren’t seeing real tangible progress, that has an impact on the business in a meaningful way, it adds real value in the short run and periodically, all the way through completion, you’ll never make it to the finish line.

[0:18:43.2] MN: Right.

[0:18:44.3] DA: Yeah, that’s true. I guess in the end, you really need to accept that change is going to happen no matter what and it’s just a matter of directing that change to something that you prefer. That’s just agile.

[0:18:59.0] MN: Perfect way to close off our particular talk on change, it’s going to happen.

[0:19:05.1] WJ: You're just changing the topic.

[0:19:08.4] MN: Well. It has to happen, it’s happening, fall, now. Also, do we have any teach and learns that we have today?

[0:19:19.3] DA: Yeah, I’ve been learning a bit and teaching a bit about Apollo 2.0 which just came out of beta in the past couple of weeks.

[0:19:31.4] WJ: Dave just did a really killer lunch and learn, I was there.

[0:19:34.8] MN: Nice, that was fun. I guess that was a lot of learning.

[0:19:37.7] DA: And a bit of lunch too.

[0:19:38.8] MN: Yeah.

[0:19:42.1] DA: We are working with a new app that’s going to connect the graph URL, Apollo’s a graphical client and yeah, they completely changed the API for how things are laid out, USEF network interfaces and now you have this concept of a link object that you’re passing in.

It’s definitely for the better, it’s like, React writer, three to four, they completely changed everything, you got to like screw your head on again but you know, after you go through it, it’s pretty cool, there’s a lot of nice features.

[0:20:14.7] MN: Nice. Awesome. I need to do some research on Apollo myself. It just sounds pretty cool. My learn because I don’t think I’ve done a get revert in a very long time.

[0:20:29.6] DA: Just writing perfect code all the time.

[0:20:30.7] MN: Copying that, that’s exactly, exactly what happens.

[0:20:35.1] WJ: Made my first mistake ever.

[0:20:37.6] MN: When you hired me, you got someone who had no idea about – no, seriously. I didn’t realize that Get Revert actually makes a commit in itself rather than deleting the thing that you are reverting, I don’t know, it just like – yes, revert, just makes the change that you want to not change. Then you can revert the revert. The client that I’m in, we reverted a revert that was reverted and yeah, it’s the key to it.

[0:21:04.7] DA: Just keeping it going, yeah, that’s the eternal cycle.

[0:21:08.2] MN: On and on and I was like, that’s pretty interesting to you know, because preserving the get history is important in case you want to cherry pick any of the changes that you want or just an idea of like, to get by sect, I’m naming all these other commands on get that I do know but –

[0:21:24.1] DA: Just to prove.

[0:21:27.9] MN: I didn’t realize a revert does another commit and it was pretty – I don’t know, it was like “Oh yeah, that’s a thing you could do.”

[0:21:34.5] DA: Yeah, I honestly didn’t use it that much myself until you know, we practiced trunk based development for a little while and when you’re just committing on master all the time, it’s not an option,you can’t rewrite the history, you can’t delete the branch because the branch is master.

[0:21:50.1] MN: Exactly. You don’t want to leave master when master is the branch.

[0:21:53.9] DA: yeah, you can’t rewrite the history there so you got to do the revert of the revert of the revert.

[0:21:58.3] WJ: It’s like feature flags by version control.

[0:22:00.2] MN: There you go. That’s what it was, that’s what it felt like. Cool. Closing the episode, I’d like to thank my cohost, thanks for coming on down Dave.

[0:22:09.2] DA: Thanks mate.

[0:22:10.1] MN: And our producer William, thank you.

[0:22:12.7] WJ: Absolutely, good to be here.

[0:22:13.5] MN: Feel free to hit us up at twitter.com/radiofreerabbit, I’m Michael Nunez and this is The Rabbit Hole. We’ll see you next time.


Links and Resources:

The Rabbit Hole on Twitter

Esther Derby: Six Rules For Change

Apollo 2.0