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Esther Derby's Six Rules for Change

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In OnAgile2016's conference, Esther Derby spoke about six rules for change – guides to help nurture change in a manner that honors people, acknowledges complexity within the change, and encourages creativity.

In her keynote address, "Six Rules For Change," Derby first states that she has focused her career on improving the work environment for success, so that people "Do great work, build great products, and really enjoy their work." This requires changes, of course, and she has seen how language and attitude has a great impact on how well that change is received. Rather than talking about "driving change," "implementing change," or even "evangelizing," Derby notes that the phrase "nurturing change" reduces the resistance to change. Backing up this terminology with the process Derby discusses "nurtures change, acknowledges complexity, and honors people."

The first rule Derby identifies is "Work from a stance of congruence, balancing the interest of self, others, and context." Understanding why people would want to keep things the way they are helps build a sense of empathy. Understanding the context where change is occurring and keeping connected to your own emotional state helps maintain a sense of balance. This is a continual process, kind of like staying on a wobble board, with frequent, small adjustments needed.

The second rule, "Honor what is valuable about the past and what is working now" helps the person cultivating change to recognize that the current process was, at some point, identified as a good process. Derby notes that it can be a "mistake to identify that what has come before is stupid, bad and wrong."

The third rule is "Assess the current situation and system."  Derby notes that identifying what makes sense now, who is benefitting, and who may benefit from the change can bring patterns to light. 

"Activate networks to diffuse new ideas through the system. Weave in people who are trusted and who people turn to for advice" is the fourth rule. While the traditional hierarchy can provide official communication channels, other networks can help build out trust for the process and the end results.

The fifth rule is "Guide the change. Consider where global principles apply, and what can evolve locally. Work by successive approximation." Derby notes that different environments may require different adaptations, and that encouraging small shifts to get closer to desired behavior is more likely to provide results.

Finally, Derby's sixth rule is "Design experiments to facilitate learning and buy-in." When the organization is enlisted to use experimentation and apply their own knowledge, acceptance of change, and the change itself, will happen more easily.

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