Front-line managers and supervisors practically spend their entire working day on the Ordered Side. When they are faced with a Complex Domain issue, unfortunately they struggle big time.
The business change initiative went ahead and did turn out to be a good one for the organization. My expert analysis I’m sure produced some distortion. But then again, I felt all along the project sponsors knew they had the green light from the get go . The pilot was just an exercise to say field personnel were involved. Such is life on the Ordered side.
What about working on the Unordered side? The first thing we do is put away our Sense/Analyze/Respond problem-solving tool bag. Instead we apply a Sense-Making approach and its Probe/Sense/Respond methodology. This calls for setting up Safe-Fail experiments to probe the system and sense the new attitudinal and behavioural patterns that emerge.
Working with front-line managers and supervisors on a Complex Domain issue is, to put it politely, a delightful challenge. Here are a few things to remember.
They have a really tough time working in the Complex Domain
Front-liners who spend most of their time on the Ordered side find unpredictability and uncertainty extremely discomforting. Problem solving is all about analyzing and finding cause & effect. When you as a facilitator say there is none, be prepared for stunned “how can that be?” faces.
Failure is OK
Reminding them of the Cynefin framework helps to shift their heads from the Complicated to the Complex Domain.
We want failure to happen, as long as it’s tolerable and safe. We will carefully monitor and if things are getting too much out of control, shut down the experiment and stabilize.Probe, not Pilot
Coaching is required to focus their attention away from piloting to probing the system. At our client workshops we have small table groups design a safe-fail experiment. We learned they really struggle creating probes. We ask them to think about radical ideas that would provoke and spark strong reactions. We encourage suspending judgement when we hear murmuring such “Well, that won’t work. No way we can do that. The guys will think we’re nuts.”We should only observe, not measure in the Complex Domain
“Say what? This is a joke, right?”
They live by the Ordered side creed “what gets measured gets done”. Now we tell them the measures they are accustomed to may not be appropriate; the measures may belong to a paradigm we are escaping. So we can only observe behaviour and monitor accordingly.
Asking them to suspend their need to measure won’t be easy. Giving an analogy may offer some comfort: “We don’t want to be measuring velocity when, in the hindsight, we discover acceleration is the right measure. It’s conceivable we may have to invent a new measure.”Insanity is repeating something and expecting to get a different result
Umm, guess what. We can and are looking for different results in the Complex Domain. More incredulous looks. Maybe a few agitated smiles.In the Complex Domain, everything might be reset back to Ground Zero
“You got to be kidding me. You mean I can’t fall back on my vast knowledge accumulated over many years? Hey, that’s why they pay me the big bucks around here! My value will go down the toilet!”
This won’t be an isolated problem with front-line managers and supervisors. It will be a change leadership issue for everyone impacted.
You can Do More with Less
Front-liners who lead by empowering their people to come up with a solution get this really quickly. Front-liners who struggle with giving up control and feeling compelled to find a solution by themselves unfortunately practice Do Less with More.
At FranklinCovey, we use the Gardener vs. Mechanic analogy to point out the differences between leading and managing. A gardener knows he cannot command and control a seed to grow. His role is to nurture by providing water, soil, fertilizer and managing climate extremes.
On the other hand, Mechanics work with gears and pulleys on machines. Their job is to keep the machine running efficiently. If a gear breaks; throw it out and replace it with another.
In the Complex Domain we lead people and enable the system to solve the intractable problem.