As a Consultant and Change Agent, I often run into situations where, through conversations with people, different perspectives surge regarding the desired improvements and their starting point. People’s views on performance, the effectiveness of communication, and even current and expected behaviours differ based on their context.
As trained professionals, we start a series of individual conversations, try to capture outcomes, analyze them, write down our own and clarify others’ observations, and maybe even get to conclusions. This process works. After a few iterations, you get to the point where you are clear on the differences between the perspectives and what may be the cause of them.
That is a problem.
- It is a problem because it is time-consuming. Over time people’s perspectives change. So your ‘conclusions’ may already be invalid before starting the work.
- It is a problem because it may only be apparent to me what’s happening. But how do I transmit that to the people involved, especially the organization’s leaders, to bring alignment?
Culture Change is challenging.
One project where these problems quickly surfaced was during the pandemic when a customer approached us to get them to understand how to align their culture.
This sizeable traditional company bought a minor, more successful, modern company in December 2019. We foresaw the start of integration efforts.
But unfortunately, just at that point, the pandemic hit, and we had to stay in Spain.
In addition, the company’s headquarters launched an image makeover at the beginning of 2020 and an adjusted set of corporate values and operating principles.
Problems identified earlier became apparent with people that had never met in person and a renewed set of corporate values and principles.
- Planning individual video interviews and getting people together to have conversations about findings, all while they are obliged to stay at home, wasn’t going to be fast.
- Are our observations realistic? A real sign of what’s going on, or heavily influenced by a temporal condition caused by the pandemic? Is it fair to confront people who have never met before with perspectives of one another?
We accepted the challenge nevertheless and decided to take a more experimental approach using techniques from Lean Change Management.
Lean Change Management
I’ve always had jobs that involved change and witnessed its impact on people from up close. Effects that more often than not caused frustration and friction with the people on the receiving end of the (process or tool) change. In my search for different approaches to change that truly take people into account as part of the process, I stumbled upon Lean Change Management.
After reading the book, I joined Jason Little in his Lean Change Agent training in Amsterdam in 2017. It was worth every cent invested. Jason being great at explaining the concepts and supporting those with great stories, was a great discovery. However, filling your toolkit with different approaches to o-so-familiar problems was gold!
Perspective mapping is a simple practice that is useful in many situations. It can be used to clarify or compare perspectives between layers in an organization, departments, or teams.
The Perspective Map helps us explore the similarities and differences people have about the change. It is important to understand the perspective of the organization, leaders, and people in order to move the change forward.
More about the ‘Perspective Map’ element here.
We figured this practice could be an objective and rather a fast tactic to deploy to handle our challenge.
Tackling the challenge with the people involved
As I wrote in the introduction, Perspective Mapping can be used in many different contexts. In this case, we slightly tweaked the practice from the way I learned to use it.
The most important point the leadership team wanted to understand was how people believed the operating principles helped them behave in line with the corporate values. They had problems grasping why items related to “culture” were so negative in the quarterly surveys, while they believed they had been very clear in the communications explaining the Values and Principles.
We didn’t have a concrete change at hand (the question was more if a change was actually needed), so instead of looking at the different levels for items that support or hold back a change, we looked for associations people had with the Corporate Values and Principles.
We launched a simple Google form for all people involved. Corporate values on the top, horizontal axis. The Operating Principles to the left, vertical axis.
The question: Mark with an X each Corporate Value you believe each of the Operating Principles is supporting. It is allowed to mark more than one value for each principle.
We then organized the responses into three groups: Executives, Managers, and Staff.
By focusing on what each group identified as ‘strong links’ between principles supporting values, we were able to present very quickly a simplified view of what’s actually happening.
Without spending a lot of time, a 1 table questionnaire, and quick visualization of strong links, we were able to map perspectives and have very targeted conversations with each of the groups.
Because of the way the question was asked and the presentation of the perspective map as a visualization, it provoked the right conversation.
We didn’t ask people to put a value on a scale from 1-10, and we didn’t ask for additional comments. Just a simple “Yes/No – I feel this principle is related to that value” and adding up all the “yes” boxes. Help much in the aftermath to show Executives that managers and staff might have gotten a part of the message but clearly have other associations as well. Those other associations can be a perfect source for ‘unwanted’ behaviors or a feeling that there’s “something wrong with our Culture.”
Perspective mapping is one of many tools I learned in those days with Jason Little in Amsterdam. It has proven itself simple, quick, and great guidance for a focused conversation about what’s the reality an organization is facing.
It can be used in many contexts and formats. It reduces what used to be an exhaustive management report with dozens of irrelevant details and hours of work to construct, into a highly visual summary of what matters that is nearly ‘self-generating’ and inclusive to all people impacted by the topic, or change.
In this particular case, we kept working with this organization, applying other Lean Change Management practices to create more alignment, and with that, we have achieved a more positive sentiment about the company’s culture. But none of that would have had the same impact if we hadn’t started with Perspective Mapping.