Pause to Notice
I returned to Columbus, Ohio, on a blustery day, midway between winter and spring. Some 45-plus years later, I’m walking a trail again. So much has changed, all around are signs of it: a freeway built 40 years ago, a park commemorating a swath of land 30 years ago, not to mention all the stories of the lives connected, mine included. Some changes are earth shaking, whereas others are nothing more than the slow ebb of time.
When we slow down in our busyness and all the change we drive and strive for in order to just notice our surroundings, we’ll notice some things haven’t missed a beat. Today is no exception: a muskrat swims by where a scant 200 years ago the natives living here once trapped its ancestors. The trees prepare to burst forth like they’ve done for thousands of years, today only a slight bud visible. And clear spring water filters into the pond from deep underground, as clear today as when teenagers snuck in to swim here late at night half a century ago.
Wisdom to Capture the Past
So often when we as leaders consider change, we are intent on a new future state: progress, improvement, and transformation. Where we are of course was once a future state too, not long ago, but regardless we want to claim a new place or future state suited for the tomorrow we envision. What caught my eye this morning were the sights, sounds, and nuances that haven’t changed; what do these sights and sounds have to say since last I stood here? As a driver of change what wisdom for me is in this moment, this place, and this thought process? We must capture the wisdom and lessons from the past.
I have been the architect and minion of change, some small, incremental changes and others large, revamping the scope of one organization’s footprint within a country by globalizing a shared workflow across teams in the U.S., Philippines and Costa Rica. With each change there were important pieces that transcended the strategy, kaizen events and reorganizations. The first example was Ruth, “the pillar” of one department. Pillars are those people in our organizations that hold the structure up like a column in a building: hardworking and very productive, in this case, in an outdated business process. And while she struggled at first with a digital way to work, after the dust settled Ruth was a pillar again, now in the new process.
At another company, the Costa Rican team aggregated value in their jobs. This means they altered the workflow so that the work done required an elevated way of performing the work with a deeper knowledge of the fundamentals behind the business processes. This people centered approach meant:
- A more sophisticated and elegant solution delivered more value for the customers.
- The customer and employee engagement both grew.
- The distributed work meant, work was shared globally allowing greater participation by other teams.
- The Costa Rican team’s skills and knowledge gained by re-imagining their work made them more valuable to the organization and the market.
- Finally, these efforts reinvigorated the local office’s culture characterized by service, in a country where service is a nationalistic ethos.
Both of these stories demonstrate the importance of people, reminds us that at the center of every change culture ultimately eat strategy’s lunch and how vital the past ways of working are to moving forward.
So who are your pillars? What cultural pieces need to be remembered? And which stories of the past are important for the future?
This is Part 1 of a multi-blog piece on managing change, change management, leading change, and personal resilience.