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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Mary-Lynn Manns on Fearless Change

Mary-Lynn Manns on Fearless Change


1. My name is Ryan Slobojan and I am here with Mary-Lynn Manns co-author of the book "Fearless Change". Can you tell us a little bit about what you have learned since writing the book?

The book came out in 2005, it was copyright 2005 and since that time we've learned more about the emotional issues in persuading people to change to move to a new idea. The first book "Fearless Change" was concentrating mostly on the evangelist the person who is leading the change. Since then we called this person the "Energizer" sometimes, but we concentrated on that person and the qualities he/she needs to have.

We also concentrated on the other people he/she needs to get helping him/her to get on her side, to lead the change and we concentrated on getting the information out, the techniques that you use, we had patterns such as "In Your Space," "Study Group," "External Validation," patterns like that which concentrate on how you get the information out to people and then of course the people that you get the information out to. So those were the two things in "Fearless Change" the first book and since then and we had some emotional persuasion techniques in there but our second book which we tentatively titled "More Fearless Change" we are concentrating more on that: how to actually persuade people and to persuade people it's not a logical argument it's more of a persuasive emotional argument that you have to give to people.


2. So, "Fearless Change" had a series of patterns in it. Can you describe for us in more detail what kinds of new patterns you see arising as part of "More Fearless Change"?

In "More Fearless Change" we are concentrating more on the emotional connection that the evangelist or the energizer or the people helping the evangelist need to make with people that they are trying to convince. And so we have new patterns like "Wake Up Call," which appeals to "Oh, gosh there is a problem, there is really a problem, we need to solve this problem" rather than concentrating on the solution "I have an idea" and then people don't understand what's the emotional connection to the problem that they need to solve.

We have another pattern called the "Myth Buster", because we recognize that when people see an idea in a certain way they are very connected to what they believe and so it is up to the Evangelist or the Energizer to break those myths the things that people believe which are not true about the idea. We also have a new pattern called "Imagine That" where we are helping people imagine we suggest helping people imagine what the future would be like with this new idea. Those are some of the highlights of "More Fearless Change" as far as the emotional connection goes.

So all those kinds of new patterns are based on us watching what people have told us since we wrote the first "Fearless Change" and people telling us that when you actually move from the knowledge phase where you are just giving people information about the new idea, when you move to the persuasive phase then this other pattern needs kick in often people are just interested in sharing what they know about a new idea, giving the elevator pitch, or putting wonderful bullets on a power point slide or hanging flyers and that's good because people have to have knowledge about the new idea but that doesn't necessarily persuade people; those techniques. What persuades people is appealing to their emotions. And that is an example of some of the patterns that we are going to put in the new book.


3. I look at working in an organization and I see for instance there is a bunch of processes that are very onerous, very time wasting. What's your recommendation for how to bring this forward? How should I bring this up and what should I do?

Well then I can talk more about one of our newest patterns "Wakeup Call" which I just mentioned a few minutes ago. So you mention that there are processes that you see as being problems and most likely other people don't and most likelythat is why they just continue. There could be other reasons they just continue too, the processes still go on. People may see them as problems but don't want to do anything about them. So your idea, your task is to make it so people are so emotionally connected to the problems that you see they really want to do something about it.

So, you stir up that energy. Now with all patterns there is negative and positive consequences to doing a wakeup call to calling attention to the problems obviously the positive consequences are just what I said you have to get people psyched "Ok we got to do something". And then you can hold a "Town Meeting" which is another pattern we have, which gets people together talking about the problem similar to what Obama has done with the healthcare issue. But the negative consequences of doing this, the wakeup call, calling attention to the problem is that some people own those processes and you can make people angry because you are calling attention to something that doesn't work that some people own and are very tied to.

So then that is a negative consequence of using a wakeup call and that calls for another pattern, perhaps a pattern from our book "Fearless", "Fear-Less," where you bring the skeptics on board and discuss how you can actually solve the problem and get their point of view. So there is a lot of ways you can approach that but that's the pattern that comes to mind when you ask that question.


4. One of the things that I have heard mentioned about failed Agile doctrine in the past is that an organization starts to adopt a couple of these practices and increase communication transparency and they see that all of a sudden all these problems spring up that weren't there before, and they blame the Agile and back off it. So what are your thoughts on that?

We didn't plan these questions ahead of time but that makes me think of a new pattern which I mentioned a few minutes ago and that's the "Myth Buster" pattern and I think that is true, the physicists have told that for years, that every action has a reaction and there is also, when I think of that I also think about system thinking which is you can't just do something in a vacuum. You just want to go "Well duh. anything we want to do is bring in a new process such as Agile there are going to be negative and positive consequences of doing that and often people will concentrate on the negative consequences and sometimes the people who are more skeptical to begin with will concentrate on that.

So that's a good time to bring in the "Myth Buster" pattern which says that you should in small and easy to understand chunks explain "This is what this new idea is not" in addition to what this new idea is. So often evangelists will talk about "This is how cool this idea is, this is what it will do, this is what it has and this is what it can do for you" and do a little bit of "Personal Touch," another pattern, but they are forgetting the kinds of things people are thinking that are wrong about the new idea and often they do not or they forget to, or don't take the time to address those things. So yes, there will be negative side effects of bringing new ideas such as Agile into an organization especially in the beginning. So the idea is to keep people on task and make them understand what's actually causing those problems and it may not be Agile at all. And so that's where the "Myth Buster" pattern comes in.


5. What is your recommendation for increasing communication within organizations where it might be somewhat lacking?

Well in "Fearless Change" we concentrated on that, getting the word out, and the idea in "Fearless Change" was to get people so involved and interested in a change that they wanted to change rather than being forced to change. Now to get them involved and interested in the change you have to give them knowledge about it, communicate, and also you have to persuade them. So what you are asking is how do you get the information out there? And unfortunately a lot of evangelists will make the mistake of using only one communication channel or one method or one form of media. And what people need because they are busy human beings is they need different kinds more than just one.

So for example an evangelist may put on a nice outfit and do a wonderful power point presentation and there are people in the room that go "Wow, that was really good" and the evangelist is mistaken in thinking that is all he/she needs to do and he/she is definitely convinced that the people who were there in the room with wide-eyes going "That was great". But indeed people go back to their lives, their work lives and they forget. And another problem with that method while it's very good and it's good for reaching the masses initially, another method is bringing in a "Big Jolt Speaker,"which is another pattern, you can bring in somebody from the outside who is well known who will talk about the new idea and people tend to listen to others from the outside, rather than in your organization. So those two methods are good except that they can't be used alone.

So the next and another thing an evangelist can and should do is now looking at key people in the organization and using the "Personal Touch" pattern in other words walking up to Mike and say "Let's look at how this new idea can match what Mike needs" and so explaining it to Mike that way, personal touch which would be different than how the evangelist might explain it to Sue, Sue has a different set of problems at work so you mentioned Agile, how Agile would meet Susan's needs and then Fred, how Agile might need Fred's needs. And because the evangelist can't talk with everybody, the evangelist has a job to do too, here she is busy, that's when the "Bridge Builder" pattern comes in so the people who are already convinced of the new idea can help you do some of this personal touch talking to people, seeing how the ideas such as Agile matches their pain and unfortunately we don't do enough of that because it's easier to do the power point, it's easier to do bringing an outside speaker, and that's important to do, but personal touch is another way to get the word out.

And then we also talk about the "In Your Space" pattern which is a variety of different ways you can keep the idea on people's minds and we have seen some creative use of that pattern, for example Dilbert cartoons outside of people's cubicle that are about the new idea, people stop and look at Dilbert cartoons and that reminds them of the new idea this person inside the cubicle has been pushing this new idea such as Agile. I have seen people with a hat embroidered that says "Ask me about" and that's the latest idea that they are thinking about.


6. Sometimes when an individual is working within a given process or doing something they know that something is wrong or they know that they shouldn't be this complicated and some kind of change is needed but they don't know what kind of change. What would you recommend in that case?

Again it brings me to a pattern called "Town Meeting" which I mentioned a few minutes ago and with the risk of sounding repetitive we have seen that a lot in the news lately with the healthcare issue and we were going "Darn, we wrote that before" but the idea behind that is to get people in a room and talk about "Ok let's get the questions out there, the problems out there and let's try to solve this together". Now there is a lot of positive consequences that come out of that for example you get lots of great ideas but you'll also get people that would buy into the solution more because they were a part of it. Of course you can also see the negative consequences all patterns have a positive and negative consequence and the negative consequence you get too many ideas, and people get upset when their particular idea is not the one that's brought to fruition So that's a common way is "Town Meeting".

We are working on another pattern which we are still struggling with a name and the idea is suppose you have an extremely vocal skeptic who is kind of rough on you for everything, new ideas that seems to come out, and working with him/her is different than the Town Meeting might not work as well for him/her, that vocal skeptic, so how would you work on that one-on-one rather than using Town Meeting with them so we are working on that pattern because we see that is a problem, a constantly requiring problem for a change leader. So that is two things that come to mind with that question.

Jan 28, 2010