Understanding Change as a Game We Play

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International 

 Takeaways:  Change is one of many games we humans play.  Games have similar characteristics, including purpose, rules, time boundaries, spatial parameters, roles, and prizes.

Leadingat the Edge of ChaosIn his book, Leading at the Edge of Chaos: How to Create the Nimble Organization, Daryl R. Connor describes change management as yet one of many games humans play. All our games, he says, have certain characteristics in common:

  •  Purpose – they all have a point regardless of whether they are frivolous or serious.
  • Rules – they all have explicit or implicit directions for how to play. Implicit may be the unspoken rules around friendship, for example.
  • Time boundaries – some are brief and others take a long time. Personal development, for example, is a life-long process.
  • Spatial parameters – some games are played in a small physical space, such as your computer, or in a large workspace, like offices or the global marketplace
  • Prizes – all games have rewards of one kind or another, whether it’s a promotion and salary increase or a ranking as winner
  • Intensity – some games are fun; others serious, such as competing for a hard-get customer
  • Emotional reactions – some games are pleasurable, such as achieving financial success, or mere obligations, such as paying taxes.
  • Prescribed number of players – some games are played with older or younger people, or they may be solitary, such as meditation or prayer.
  • Intentionality – participation in some games is conscious, such as dating, while in others it may be totally unconscious, such as intimidating coworkers.
  • Language – most games use terms or symbols to convey specific meanings that are only relevant within a specific context, such as might be created when a team comes together to focus on an innovative new product or idea.
  • Roles – most games include roles everyone plays; there’s always a leader and other types of participants, such as spectators, rookies, experts, or artists.

Managing Change

If we look at managing change from the perspective of gamesmanship, we see that this is just another game we play, and it incorporates all the elements described above. As the pace of change continues to increase, organizations find they must be continually changing to keep up or stay ahead of the competition. This requires leaders at all levels who are nimble and understand how to play this game.

Because businesses and organizations of all types are continually changing and have been doing so “for as long we humans have been building hierarchical structures”, says Connor, the game of managing change has become more and more sophisticated. A new paradigm has been born that forces us to look at this managing change game from a new perspective.

According to Connor, paradigms are created as a response to people trying to make sense of the world around them. So as the world has continued to change and humans try to understand the implications of these changes, new questions and challenges arise, creating a new paradigm.

Ten years ago, for example, few people anticipated the impact the smart phone would have on daily lives. Yet society globally has become more and more mobile, and people are doing more shopping and internet browsing from their phones rather than their desktop computers. This has, and will continue to create, dramatic implications for businesses of all types. It has implications for broadband service providers and cable companies. It has implications for organizations selling their products and services online. It has implications for retailers with physical store locations as shoppers scan QR and bar codes in the store to find better pricing elsewhere.

Yet, despite this consumer trend, fewer than 5% of all websites today are mobile phone friendly, let alone tablet friendly. This is a new paradigm shift in the global marketplace game.

As leaders we need to stay abreast of these trends and consider the implications they have for our own businesses. Are we still trying to use the old set of rules to play in this new sandbox? Or are we adapting and changing the rules of the game to meet these new challenges?

Mobile smart phones and tablets have altered the global marketplace. What are you doing to meet this new challenge in order to play in this new game space? 

Parallel Involvement in Our Tablet Initiative

By Eric A Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International  4-8-2012 
Warehouse Planning

Parallel involvement in the warehouse

Part C – PLAN
Now, as we begin to plan what we’re going to do about deploying our tablet initiative in our warehouse, let’s keep our parallel involvement process going to mitigate any other potential unintended consequences. This is a key Systems Thinking tool.  A good step at this point is what can be called plan to plan. This means lay out a road map that outlines what needs to be done to have a solid plan. For instance, listing and engaging the various stakeholders in the planning process to ensure their input is both present and relevant. We should also ensure we have the financial and human resources to carryout our project. Well-facilitated meetings with stakeholders that interrelate are a high priority. The stage must be set to exclude personal and political agendas. This is a content issue that can help immensely to avoid time lost due to unnecessary and distracting conflicts. Having absolute clarity on the desired outcomes, “how this impacts the customer” is a really good way to avoid distracting agendas. Everyone can more easily focus on those over-reaching goals.

During this planning phase it would be a good idea for us to conduct some internal and external assessments that will help us flesh out some key strategies and alternatives that will keep us on track to our desired outcomes.  We can preempt some of the pains we will encounter and will have identified some key enablers to a successful project.

Bring Stakeholders Together
Let us then plan on scheduling meetings to bring those stakeholders together. Must they be in person or is everyone comfortable with online meetings? Does it make sense to engage an external facilitator to avoid that person “having a dog in the hunt” and therefore a potentially counterproductive bias? Do we have good in-house facilitators for meetings we can also use? We are looking at making a potential large investment in time, money and changes in how we do things, so we must weigh the value of applying the best inquisitive inquiry techniques and processes as possible at this point.

Now let us explore our list of stakeholders without too much detail. We need the warehouse managers and floor-staff to help us flesh out specs like tablet size, battery life and content of the data to be managed by our tablets. Our IT department has to look at that content too but also platform compatibility such as operating system, possible custom app development and support and IT vendor relationships.

Our IT and tablet vendors should be consulted on the impact on wireless bandwidth requirements, support issues (like that pesky automatic update Waste Management experienced), intended tablet life-cycles (new, improved product releases for example), in-tablet or cloud-based apps and to evaluate their capacity to participate long term.

Our sales and purchasing departments, supply chain managers, HR department and attorneys should all have some input on the content. Sales, purchasing, supply chain and process specialists need to look at customer value issues. HR and our attorneys should address things like what do tablets have a native ability to do that maybe are inappropriate on the job, like using the cameras most tablets have. It’s possible that in a warehouse environment, this could be a real plus. Consider a warehouse worker, taking a picture or video of a pallet of product just unloaded showing potential damage and immediately emailing the images to the buyer in purchasing asking if it’s acceptable or should it be returned. That’s a great example of just-in-time response and empowering the people who have the information to resolve problems with high efficiency.

A counterpoint to that, also cited in Information Week, is that if the tablet users are in a position to abuse the cameras, on some tablets the cameras cannot be disabled! This type of instant sharing of information also needs the input from legal counsel to help establish rules and policies for ensuring security of the data. This includes confidentiality of the data and its misuse, intentional or otherwise of the various native features of the tablets.

Consider Product Life Cycles
Purchasing and asset management should chime in on product life cycles. For example, to determine if the tablets replace other equipment and the financial impact of these issues. The strategic management office can support the effort by coaching the leaders on best practices on planning, perhaps facilitating meetings and helping to integrate the project into the company’s overall strategic plan. The process specialists can contribute to the content and hardware selection by ensuring right-sized tablet s and accessories are selected and related company processes are all aligned.

The HR department should help determine any training required and changes in personnel to support the new tablets. Not just the end users are to be considered here but possibly hardware and software technicians for custom apps and to customize the units. Information Week cites that Avnet disabled a number of features on the iPads they deployed in their warehouses thereby increasing times between charging to up to three days, since the iPads were only using those features necessary for the job. The others, like iTunes, were disabled.  Last on the list but not least are the PR people, who may be able to leverage improvements in customer value as a result of the initiative. Involving all the key stakeholders in the organization and getting their input on this project are part of using a systems thinking approach for this initiative.

But wait, there’s more! What if this tablet initiative provides better real-time inventory data that the sales force can use? Now our warehouse tablet initiative can further improve customer value where we are actually are in contact with the client! So we are compelled to now consider deploying tablets to our sales force. But that’s another project.

Systems Thinking Best Practices in Tablet Initiative

By Eric A Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International  4-8-2012

Part B – THINK

As we move into the THINKING stage of this exercise, let’s consider what the thought styles should be. How you think is really important in achieving results. We are engaged in a project that is intended to have a lasting effect on the enterprise and thus must include strategic, or systems, thinking. Systems Thinking best practices show us the importance of defining the content of the project, the thinking processes such as facilitated meetings, and the structures, such as clear rules for meetings and engaging cross-functional groups in meetings to have more timely information exchanges.

This should include working hard on defining the various desired outcomes, for each stakeholder (yes, each is asking “What is in it for me?”). We should carefully consider who those stakeholders are: warehouse managers and floor staff, our IT department, our IT warehouse planning outcomesvendors, our prospective tablet vendors, our sales and purchasing departments, our supply chain managers, our asset management office, our strategic management office, our marketing firm, our process specialists, our HR department, our attorneys and our PR firm. This list is offered as an example and will vary depending on your firm and your products, so we’ll flesh this out in more detail later.

Unintended consequences can occur

Let’s dive in to what can happen if we don’t include some of these stakeholders in the process to recognize the value of this level of diligence. Waste Management is cited in Information Week as having deployed a pilot program of tablets to 20 of its trucks. The day before the pilot program went live, their telecom carrier sent one of those now normal automatic updates to the mobile devices modifying the operating system.  The update caused “the on-board (I presume on-board the trucks) charging system to no longer work with the tablets, so they would run out of power on the road”. 

Can you now see the unintended consequence of having hundreds or thousands of tablets working incorrectly due to an automatic update from any of the vendors involved in the tablet? You may have in-house custom apps, third party apps, the OS vendor, the hardware/firmware vendor and accessory vendors (charging systems!) that need to be considered and included in planning and executing the project.

Ignoring them can be detrimental to your tablet initiative project.