Friday, 29 July 2016

Change by listening?

Want to change something?  Need a sure fire method?

Take your pick from:

    Change image1.jpg
  • LEAN
  • Kaizen
  • Six sigma
  • BPR
  • OD
  • VSM
  • PDCA
  • Agile
  • MSP
  • ………….
Change, change, change

The list is endless, most have a place some of the time in some circumstances and sometimes they even make a positive difference.  

Over the years I have observed numerous organisations and consultants (both internal and external) who align with a particular method and approach.  They become well versed in its use and quite expert at its application.  Most of the time this is a good thing but I wanted to raise the thorny question of whether we sometimes start with: ‘the answer is lean/BPR/VSM…. <delete as appropriate>  now, what is the problem?”

I attended a talk recently on Listening Skills as used by police hostage negotiators and was reminded of the quote by Nancy Kline who said “the quality of your attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking”.  This got me thinking about my interactions with the customers and teams that I work with.  Often the starting point for a change effort is by understanding the what and why of how things are currently operating and how the individuals concerned perceive things.  Coming from an engineering background I always like to come up with a solution and solve a problem.  Whilst this can work well I have discovered that there are occasions when I have formulated ‘my solution’ before really understanding the other person’s perspective or the bigger picture. Even if it is a good solution, the problem remains that it is still my solution and not necessarily the right solution for my client.

So, my takeaway from thinking about listening skills has been to spend a little more time initially to listen carefully and ask clean and open questions to help the other person explore their problem in their way.  This also gives me time to reflect carefully on what might be the most appropriate way of supporting them in improving their current situation.  And, yes this often requires that I introduce a specific methodology or approach or set of tools but I can do so with a clearer understanding of how it should help.  When all is said and done, the role of any change agent is to help people solve their problems, deliver their work better and perhaps live their lives a bit better as a consequence.

The Process Improvement Unit at The University of Sheffield have a rich array of approaches from training courses to workshops to facilitated events and a depth of knowledge about what has worked well and learning from what hasn't.  If you are looking for some help in exploring how to do what you and your teams do better please come and talk to us.  We promise to start by listening carefully!

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