Change Pro-Tip: Lining Up The Betters

Changing Pro-Tip:

When I remember to line up the"betters", so my "better" is their "better" is his or her "better", my changes go a lot better.

A refresher, my definition of coaching is "Creating or exploiting openings through which individuals, including sometimes myself, can step closer to who they wish they were."

This is all about "better". When I am being paid to make changes in organizations, there are always a bunch of these "betters" floating around.

There’s almost always at least four of them in play. The four ubiquitous "betters" are:

  1. better according to my idea.
  2. better according to some company’s idea.
  3. better according a team’s idea.
  4. better to an individual’s idea.

(In some settings, there are more than four, because there’s no guaranteed unity in items 2 or 3.)

And as a general rule, all four of these betters are different in the beginning. In spite of the slogans, for instance, it is commonplace for an org’s idea of better to feel limiting and cruel to an individual in that org. Fortunately, there’s usually a way — more than one way — out of this. A huge part of my job as an agent of change is to find that way.

See, if everyone in a chain of decision-making agrees that X is "better" — even if X isn’t the same "better" for each of them, then the change that installs X will be sticky.

For me, it starts at the bottom of the pile: with an individual human. In my experience, nearly all of us carry around inside a picture of all the ways in which we might be better.

There are two aspects of this that are cool: 1) It’s a list not a single item; normal people don’t think of themselves as just having one area they could be better in, but many. 2) No two of us have the same list. Scratch any two people and you’ll get two different lists.

Once we get past the individual, to a relationship or a team or a company, it’s even easier: those lists are usually gigantic, with many possible better "selves" implied.

If I can find the overlap — for any given scope I’m operating at, or for any two levels of scope I’m operating at, welllllllll, it’s all over but the crying.

When you give people something — something right in their hands, not in well-drawn theory in powerpoint, but in actual experienc — when you give people a new experience that tickles their "better", you have changed the world very successfully.

So when I’m winning, I sometimes win, that’s usually what’s going on. Let’s talk about when I’m losing.

Losing approach #1:

Focus mostly on my own personal idea of better. This is super-common in noob coaches, but we all fall into it sometimes. In this approach, I come to you with my method, and I am so sure that my method will be better. And I lose, because my better isn’t yours.

Losing approach #2:

Focus mostly on the company’s idea of better. Also quite common, though I personally don’t worry much about this one anymore. This is the stuff of KPI’s and test coverage and other psuedo-objective metrics. I lose, because the company’s better isn’t yours.

Losing approach #3:

Focus on best and suppress better. This one comes from folks who want to get to the city on the hill as fast as possible. What they don’t get: we don’t need a city on the hill, we need a route to the city on the hill. I lose, because best is out of reach.

Losing approach #4:

Keep all this to myself instead of sharing it with the people I’m working with. I still have this problem all the time. I lose, because I am — genius tho I be — not as smart as we are.

This idea — looking for all the "better"s in the room, finding a way to get them lined up so that they provide mutual support — lies at the heart of my coaching style.

It’s part of why I try to get clients to let me mostly just listen for a while. It’s part of why I try to avoid making changes for as long as I can. It’s part of why I don’t offer to hand out new metrics. It’s part of why I don’t value the proceduralism of "Agile".

So I keep this all in mind.

If I can line up the "betters", the changes I try to make will have far greater impact. I, myself, might even find me becoming "better".

Have a lovely-spring open-minded Wednesday where you learn something new! Seeya.

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