Give a Hoot!

"Give a hoot – don't pollute!" - Woodsey Owl

A couple of weekends ago, Cherry Creek hosted its (25th anniversary) arts festival over the Fourth of July weekend. If you haven’t attended before: this event features 260 +/- artists from around the world, lines the streets with food and beverage vendors, has a street dedicated to interactive activities, and offers a variety of music entertainment options. It’s a big street party! This year, over 2000 artists applied for a booth. Months of planning go into organizing this annual event, and I imagine the selection process to be laborious; so many details need to be considered to please the artisans, patrons, sponsors, and citizens of the surrounding community.

How challenging this work must be given that these groups don’t necessarily have congruent needs and desires!

Sounds similar to a large IT initiative involving various stakeholder groups with conflicting requirements, doesn’t it?

Because my family and I live only a few blocks from the Cherry Creek North shopping district – home base for the festival – we take advantage of the offerings every year. In addition to attending during hours of operation, we often walk our dog through the area in the morning before artisans open their tents to showcase their work. Despite the early hour, you’ll find outsourced security personnel on every block; they provide 24-hour watch over the art. One morning, as we walked up to the area of the event, we noticed the side lawn of a neighbor’s home was littered with trash. Being a child of the 70’s, I was shaped by the Woodsy Owl campaign. I believe that another man’s trash is everyone’s trash. Therefore, my reaction was automatic. I immediately started picking up litter. As we moved into the secured area where the tents stood, more trash littered the streets. “AHHHH!!!” My irritation level grew as I picked up an empty cigarette case, a water bottle, and piece of plastic. The security contractor assigned to that block was engaging in small talk with someone that appeared to be a non-working buddy when he noticed my actions. He quickly changed his demeanor and fell into admirable customer service mode, “Good morning ma’am. How are you this morning?” We exchanged pleasantries, and then he went back to visiting while I moved towards the trash can to properly discard my gatherings.

The security crew was just finishing up the night shift. This contractor was most likely tired and physically taxed due to the off hours, but probably had a somewhat quiet and boring night. I’m sure he had to be creative to keep his body alert and awake. Despite all of this, he didn’t bother to (move around and) clean up the litter within his line of sight during his post. To me, as a passerby, it didn’t appear that he was willing to give discretionary effort to the (assigned) job. This experience reminded me of so many moments in my career. I have been part of project teams where it’s obvious that some sort of environmental factor exists – one that could hurt the overall health of an initiative and success of the team. Yet, for some reason the involved individuals didn’t want to go above and beyond, outside their defined role to address the issue. Why is this? I personally don’t believe it is because they were lazy or didn’t care. Rather, I think the answer is multifaceted. Maybe they didn’t understand the long-term effect of inaction; maybe they had fear around “rocking the boat,” or maybe they didn’t feel they had time to do anything about “it.”

Data says that litter cleanup costs the U.S. almost $11.5 billion each year; it has also been noted that IT project failure costs the economy between $50-150 billion a year.

These stats are real and a bit overwhelming, and that is why my call to action is for leaders to give a hoot!

The Woodsey Owl campaign was launched in 1971 to share information and advice with kids - with the intention of building an appreciation for nature and driving a lasting behavior change. What if with every IT initiative, executive and project leaders ensured all impacted stakeholders were properly informed about key factors - like how to act when a potential threat or issue is identified and why it’s important to act? What if they created a feedback channel that team members liked to use, felt safe using, and had time to use? And, what if leaders provided thoughtful advice throughout the course of the project - not just scripted messages at kickoff meetings and in the form of memos? Who knows what type of waste would be eliminated. I mean, it’s 2015 and I’m still a HUGE Woodsey OWL fan in more ways than one!

Kristine Laping is the Co-Founder & Managing Director of People Before Things, LLC, a newly launched company that helps organizations create the conditions required to support large-scale, disruptive change. To join in the conversation, follow @pplb4things on Twitter.

Timing is Everything

“The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing.” - Joshua Harris

After college, my professional journey started in the arena of adult learning. I provided software training to individuals with various levels of technology experience, across multiple industries. I learned many great lessons from my training days - lessons that later helped me be more effective in my IT project delivery roles. For example, I learned how to develop and deliver training content, as well as how important it was to understand an impacted stakeholder's experience level before diving into specific (application) function and feature communication. (Think about trying to teach someone how to enter a formula in MS Excel - when that someone has never used a mouse. That happened!) Most importantly, I learned what it meant to be the 'face of change'…when the targeted audience wasn't even aware a change was coming.

I know what you're thinking? "What? You were a software instructor. How did you learn about being the face of change? Training comes towards the end of a project/change cycle. Surely impacted stakeholders were told before they got to training that something new was coming?" Right…scene 1: I was a total of eight months out of college and received an exciting assignment. One of our banking clients had acquired a local brand. For three weeks, it was my job to travel daily to the acquired brand's headquarters. Specifically, I was tasked with delivering a series of four-hour sessions. Each training included a standard message that had been scripted for me, highlighting the technology changes team members were expected to adopt in the coming days, and an overview of each 'new' system. Up until this point in my (short) training career, I had received very favorable feedback about my services; I had no reason to believe this engagement would be any different. I was optimistic (and naive) that the crowd would love me and I would be successful with helping them build new skills. That however was not the case. As I kicked off the first session, it became very clear that the group was hostile - like, if they had access to tomatoes or rocks they would throw them at me hostile. You see, there I was, some strange face delivering a message that their daily work lives would have to change...and soon. As nasty comments and difficult questions were thrown my way, I tried to remain cool and calm, but deep inside I was panicking. My scripted messaging didn't give me any information about why these system changes were being made. And, I was clueless about what steps had been taken up to this point to facilitate the acquisition; I had no idea what other changes these folks were trying to understand and manage. I was being asked a lot of questions I could not answer. My fumbling reaction did not help the situation.

These people were caught off guard and responding from a place of fear and frustration, and I was the messenger. I was their (ugly) face of change.

Throughout this engagement, I felt beat up daily. My morale had been significantly impacted, and my performance showed it. Over time I had adjusted my opening remarks ("I do not work for your company…I am only here to deliver an important message on behalf of your managers…") but my audience continued to be shocked and angry about the message coming from MY lips. It was hard not to take the reaction personally. In years to come, as I matured professionally, I was able to recognize that it was a lack of change leadership to blame and not my execution. Why hadn't the company given these people some warning prior to sending them into these training sessions, with a contractor (aka the strange face)? Did the company really think attendees would be able to focus on skill building, immediately after hearing this bomb of news? I equate the event to telling your teenage daughter over dinner that you are moving to another state during her sophomore year of high school - oh, and by the way "We are moving tomorrow!" Surely she has the right to act a little emotional when first hearing this news, and surely you'd understand if she didn't eat the food being served. In both cases, timing is everything.

Kristine Laping is the Co-Founder & Managing Director of People Before Things, LLC, a newly launched company that helps organizations create the conditions required to support large-scale, disruptive change. To join in the conversation, follow @pplb4things on Twitter.