In the strategic facilitation work that I undertake as well as in my general consulting work I continue to encounter the reality of paradigms (how we think about things and how we do things) as well as the challenge of bringing about paradigm alignment in a constructive and sustainable manner -- why do different people see things differently and why is it so difficult for diverse groups of people to achieve alignment?
I mentioned in the recent newsletter on Excellence that in the sixteen or so years since I first adopted the numerically based strategic analysis method that I outlined in my newsletters on "Measuring Competitive Performance" I have repeatedly encountered situations in which different delegates in a workshop session see the same situation or organization very differently.
The method provides a structured means to obtain numeric measures of relative importance as well as to measure performance and these measurements provide a direct measure of alignment.
While a delegate group can frequently agree quite easily what the critical factors are as a synthesis of the work of the individual members of the group they frequently see things very differently when it comes to relative importance.
In many cases these differences in priority can be associated with business groupings like marketing, finance, production, etc. In such cases these differences of perspective are understood to exist as part of the job description of the roles of these personnel. Thus human resource practitioners will generally pay much greater attention to people related "soft issues" while production staff will tend to concentrate on hard measures.
I use the metaphor of a mountain to explain these differences. Each person follows their own unique journey to reach the mountain (corporate strategic and operational objectives) and therefore it is understandable that they will each see the mountain differently.
However, if the objective is to climb to the top of the mountain as a team it is not useful if each person insists on climbing the mountain their own way. While the rationale of the metaphor is intuitively sound and easily grasped as a concept, I have found that the practical application of climbing the mountain together is much more difficult to achieve in practice.
In fact, it turns out that people are generally extremely attached to their view of the mountain at a deep, subconscious "gut" level which makes change difficult and frequently results in a syndrome that looks like "we can climb this mountain any way as long as it is my way!"
Frequently these differences of deeply held opinion result in misunderstanding and even outright conflict.
Throughout this time I have also observed how this same approach of numerically measured weightings and ratings also has a social dimension to it. People from different social and cultural backgrounds see things differently.
At some level this is taken as a given. For example, many people will have heard that shaking the head up and down, which is taken as an affirmative "yes" in Eurocentric cultures can actually mean "no" in certain Far Eastern cultures. Thus, two people, representing these two ways of doing things may sit in a meeting and both nod their heads and one thinks the other is agreeing with them while in reality they are disagreeing.
These learned patterens of how we think about things, the models that we have been trained in, the physical, mental and psychological maps of how we view life and how we interact with those around us are called "paradigms" -- we each represent a unique assembly of knowledge and experience and this collectively represents our overall paradigm. This overall paradigm is assembled from a number of distinct sub-assemblies of knowledge and experience each of which also represents a paradigm.
Thus head nodding meaning "yes, I agree" versus meaning "no, I do not agree", is but one very basic example.
In the sections that follow I will endeavour to unpack my understanding of paradigm's and how one goes about changing them, if indeed change is possible in a specific situation.
I hope that you will find this information useful.
1. Why write about paradigms?
You may ask why one would want to consider this topic, let alone write about it?
Firstly, in my work advising organizations with regard to the implementation of strategy and information technology I regularly observe how different paradigms get in the way of successful outcomes.
One of the most pronounced paradigm chasms that I encounter is the paradigm gap, frequently a gulf, that exists between business people and I.T. specialists. These two groups communicate in the same language (in my experience English) and frequently totally miss each other -- I.T. staff labour long hours to deliver a solution that the business regards as completely inappropriate to its needs and not what it requested.
This results in all sorts of problems. Organizations "outsource" in order to overcome the problem and then five or ten years later "insource" in order to overcome the same problem with the outsourced people -- the bottom line is that insourcing or outsourcing is NOT the answer, improved communication is the solution.
The second reason to write about paradigms is that I observe that paradigms become an issue in personal relationships, particularly marriages, where spouses come from different backgrounds.
The third, and perhaps the most critical, reason to write about paradigms is that South Africa has for the last few decades been engaged in a national core strategic programme of seeking to align and harmonize the paradigm of the nation to recognize "the rainbow nation" with all of its diversity while at a statutory level seeking to enforce integration and transformation across the boundaries that existed previously.
Thus quota's are set for employment and advancement of "previously disadvantaged individuals" which quota's are being successfully filled in some organizations while many other organizations are not achieving the levels of success that were expected in 1994 when South Africa miraculously changed to a democratic state.
As I have continued to facilitate sessions with diverse groups, ranging from corporate executives to residents of an informal settlement I regularly observe how the numbers that delegates offer during my critical issues process highlight differences of perspective which reflect differences of paradigm.
As an engineer I subscribe to the view that "if you can measure it you can manage it" and therefore, I am firmly convinced that in the context of achieving our national empowerment and transformation objectives, we can measure differences in paradigm and we can therefore take measures to manage these differences is a constructive manner that results in alignment, harmonization and development in a powerful, positive way.
The more we can harness ALL our people and help them to come into alignment with one another the more South Africa will become an even greater player on the world stage than it is at present.
I have it that this is a good reason to write about paradigms.
2. What is a paradigm?
In the preceeding sections I have offered some definitions of what I understand by the word "paradigm", following is a more detailed definition that I penned some time ago:
"A paradigm is a mental model of the world that we each develop as we grow and gain knowledge and experience.
"A paradigm is an assembly of knowledge and experience that has common themes if we grow up in the same environment BUT can have radically different and even conflicting themes if we grow up in different environments.
"Paradigms are neither good nor bad they are JUST DIFFERENT and when they are different is important to understand them in a calm, objective and non-threatening way ...
"and build bridges."
The last point is, for me, the most important -- build bridges.
3. Why are paradigms important?
It is easy to observe that another human being see's things differently and it is habitual with many people to judge and condemn others for being different. In fact, the whole Apartheid history of South Africa was founded on placing people in such boxes.
However, South Africa has taken vast strides towards breaking down these divides, yet it is widely acknowledged that there is still a long way to go. In the process, some people become frustrated with the "slow" pace of change while others feel threatened because they perceive the change to have negative labels applied to it and to be taking place "too quickly".
It seems to me that the more we can all learn to understand that paradigms are different world views that are not "good" or "bad", rather different, and seek to find ways of aligning and harmonizing those paradigms that are necessary to align and harmonize and accepting those that are not necessary to align and harmonize as been different views of the mountain of life, the more we will take giant steps for humanity in South Africa.
Thus, to the extent that it is required that corporate organizations operate in particular ways in order to compete on the global playing field it is necessary to identify those paradigms which are most appropriate to an organization and seek ways of aligning all staff and in so doing, find ways to align the national transformation agenda with these paradigms -- in other words, identify the critical knowledge and experience, methods and techniques, etc that are required to compete successfully and accelerate training and development of all personnel in these areas.
At a less ambitious level, in order for the high level of information technology project failure and under performance to be overcome, we also need to learn to understand what the paradigms are for corporate effectiveness of information technology investment and ensure that all staff are suitably informed and equipped in order to adjust to these paradigms.
One of the most fundamental paradigms relating to I.T. is a syndrome which looks as follows -- I enter the office of a senior executive to conduct an interview about problems with their I.T. systems and, before I have had time to outline my agenda, they inform me that I may be wasting my time speaking to them and that perhaps I should speak to the I.T. manager instead since they "do not know very much about I.T." Given that my agenda is to understand the business in order to understand why I.T. is not delivering on business expectations, this apology is uncalled for AND inappropriate.
One of the critical requirements for I.T. failure to be overcome is for business executives to understand I.T. sufficiently well to be able to manage it effectively as they do any other area of the business. Understanding that a computer is no more than an extremely fast binary adding machine that add's 0's and 1's and that use of language that imputes human attributes to computers is inaccurate and unhelpful, is frequently the first step in a journey towards managing I.T. as just one more business unit that is expected to pay its way in terms of value delivered to the owners of the organization (the tax payers in the case of Government agencies).
4. Can paradigms change?
This brings us to the question "can paradigms change?"
In the years that I have been observing paradigms and how they change or don't change I have reached the following conclusions with regard to answering that question:
Do YOU want it to change?
Are YOU willing to change?
Would YOU be wiling to change if you were the person being asked to make this change?
Is change REALLY necessary?
What is the REAL value of the change?
Can you prove it?
Are you sure?
As far as I can see all the above apply to different situation for different people.
If something happens that is intense and carries with it a clear message of a need for change, people are able to make remarkable changes quickly, sometimes these changes are permanent and sustainable, other times the person gradually reverts to their previous paradigm.
An example of the above would be a particular style of driving a motor vehicle which results in a near miss -- a catastrophic event narrowly avoided -- in such cases many people will adjust their driving style to avoid or minimize exposure to a repetition of such an event. Some people may slowly revert to their old behaviour and others may make a permanent change.
What makes the difference?
If one takes "no knowledge" of how to drive a motor car as an example of a paradigm, then, assuming that you can drive a motor vehicle, you will recall that it took repetitive instruction, study and practice before you were able to drive a car without a person supervising you. You will probably also recall that for a long time after you obtained your driving license you continued to learn about driving safely as incidents happened in your life.
So, it is possible to change your paradigm from not being able to drive a motor car to being able to drive a motor car safely -- and in the process of recalling this experience you will observe that major paradigm changes are possible.
Changing a paradigm is a choice. The choice can either result from some form of pain -- something negative, like a motor car accident causes you to choose to change some specific behaviour or from some form of gain or pleasure -- you discover that it is enjoyable to be able to travel around without being dependent on other people. The examples may seem trite but I suggest that the principal holds for change in the context of any paradigm.
So, paradigms CAN be changed, it depends on the paradigm, the magnitude of change required and the magnitude of the pain or pleasure that is motivating the change.
However, if one has never seen a motor car, let alone travelled in one, sudden translocation to a motor car travelling at speed in heavy traffic on a major motorway could be so terrifying that one might do everything possible to avoid repeating the experience
5 How do you bring about paradigm change?
In order to bring about change it is first necessary to recognize that a paradigm gap exists.
If people are not aware that there is a paradigm gap then there is no basis to initiate a discussion with regard to change.
My sense is that the reason so many people and organizations are finding paradigm change difficult with regard to organizational transformation is that there are key paradigm gaps that are either not being recognized or which when recognized are labelled with the labels of the old dispensation rather than expressed in constructive ways that facilitate a sincere and constructive conversation directed at establishing that change may be required.
In bringing about change it is necessary to identify the critical factors that need to be changed. By "critical factors" is meant the essential elements of the paradigm/s in question that need to be changed. It is easy to focus on the 80% of issues that will bring about 20% of the required change, the challenge is to identify the 20% of the issues that will bring about 80% of the desired change. These may be uncomfortable issues or low visibility issues, or both.
The critical issues approach to strategic analysis outlined in previous newsletters will assist in identifying these factors with the appropriate facilitation.
In many change situations change is likely to be a two way requirement -- asking one person to change while the other person is not prepared to change is unlikely to give rise to a situation in which there will be real motivation to change.
Identifying a clear value proposition for the person or people being asked to change is also important -- people will change if there is a clear understanding of the pain that will be reduced by the change or the pain that will be incurred if the change does not take place or if there is a clear understanding of the pleasure that will be gained as a consequence of the change.
Change for the sake of change is unlikely to be successful.
Change, such as the implementation of a new computer system, which requires personnel to work longer hours with the prospect of retrenchment in the event of success, which is frequently the published motivation for I.T. change, is unlikely to succeed and seldom does.
I once undertook an investigation relating to an I.T. project that was nine months behind schedule. It turned out that there was talk of the new system giving rise to headcount reduction -- so much so that 50 staff members were retrenched a monthe BEFORE go live. Not surprisingly staff were not cooperating -- if 50 staff could be retrenched before go live, think how many were going to be retrenched once the system was live!
6. Communication and repetition
People who work with computers are accustomed to a paradigm in which you tell the computer what to do once and it remembers the instruction and does executes it as frequently as you want the instruction executed thereafter.
Accordingly, I.T. people assume that they only have to tell other human beings the new behaviour that is required once and they will instantly change their behaviour permanently. This seldom or every happens in practice and the resulting mismatch of expectations and associated breakdown in communication can be very destructive.
On a change project I strongly recommend that you have a team member who is an excellent communicator and who understands the psychology of change and who can guide the team with regard to communication.
Produce a regular newsletter or project status report that is written in easy to read style.
Make use of computer based training techniques during implementation.
Tell people what you are going to do, tell them what you are doing and tell them what has been done -- in particular tell them what is required of them -- again, before, during and after.
The recent DSTV Channel numbering change is an example of a well managed communication change programme which affected a large number of people and which certainly went off well in my household -- there was regular communication well ahead of the change, communication during the change and there continues to be communication after the change.
Repetition is a vital part of change -- McDonald indicates that only about 2.5% of a population who will obtain value from a product will buy on first exposure to the product, a further 13.5% are early adopters, they wait for a limited time to see who else will buy, the early majority (34%) will follow once there has been reasonable take up and a further 34% will wait for more take up, finally 16% are classed as laggards, they will probably never buy. This is the reason why the same commercial is screened at the same time on TV on a regular basis.
It is reported that the same action (e.g. brushing teeth) must be repeated at least 21 consecutive days in order to become a habit -- in practice this will vary with individual and desired action.
I find with my courses, the more I repeat the courses the more deeply I understand my own material.
If you want to bring about substantial changes in behaviour it is vital to communicate frequently and provide opportunities for reinforcement -- tap dancing about issues because they are sensitive, which to some extent we do in South Africa because of real or perceived sensitivity, is not helpful.
Computer based training guides may be of assistance in larger companies which can afford the cost of preparing them.
7. Experiential change
In addition to the previous point dramatic experience can bring about lasting change in some cases.
A key issue in transformational change is that those from previously disadvantaged backgrounds do not have personal exposure to the standards of excellence that some from priviledged backgrounds have experienced. Thus, what is a 5 out of 10 for one person may be an 8 out of 10 for another, their frame of reference is different. Conversely, a person from a priviledged background may not have any idea of the level of achievement that a person from a disadvantaged background has already achieved, what is 0 out of 10 for the one person may be 5 out of 10 for the other.
One way of facilitating change is to arrange for people to experience first hand the extreme conditions that the others take for granted -- in the case of transformation, both positive and negative -- let those from priviledged situations visit an informal settlement and let those from disadvantaged background visit the offices of world class companies -- this needs to take place with appropriate preparation otherwise the experience may entrench stereotypes and increase resistance to change.
Other experiential activities may also be of assistance. There are also various forms of experiential training available.
Personal one on one coaching may also be valuable.
A key aspect of experiential change is "insight" -- the aha moment.
Belinda Maclachlan has this to say about coaching and insight "
"Why coaching?" Short question, short answer: because of insight! "insight" : Oxford dictionary meaning: mental penetration.
... "insight" has become the new buzz word. Are you aware how much we tell, and how little we question? How much we push, and how little we pull for information? "Insight" is the AHA moment when the lights literally switch on, and the eyes tell you someone is indeed at home! But an insight for one is not an insight for another. What may seem so obvious to you is a major breakthrough for another. Insight penetrates deep into the brain inspiring new thoughts, changing beliefs, shifting mind-maps, and altering behaviours. The right question at the right time causes life-altering insights! Always have a few high gain questions up your sleeve, and masterfully lead people to revelation.
Whatever we're doing - debating with partners, exploring opportunities with prospects or developing new business with clients - being open to new insights may just make the difference."
Experiential activities are only going to take things some of the way. Formal change processes, communication, training, etc are also required to bring about change and these require the input of specialists who really understand the process of change and who can assist in formulating appropriate actions to achieve desired outcomes.
This is not necessarily an onerous and time consuming task, it does require upfront recognition on the part of all parties of the need for change, willingness to change and facilitate change and the resources to bring about change.
Conclusion -- The challenge of paradigms
A number of aspects of the impact of paradigms and the implications of changing paradigms have been discussed.
Formal paradigm change is a complex subject that is not well understood by the majority of people. It requires a recognition of the reality of soft issues and psychology in the work place and the application of conscious disciplines and techniques to bring about change on a sustained basis.
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