Knowing me, knowing you, aha!

I have included 3 habits in this section as they share a common theme of empathy. They are also the most reflectional of the habits.

The first two habits placed an emphasis on not knowing everything and in order to achieve that you will have to learn to let things go and trust in the power of community. Letting go does not mean you lose control of setting the direction though it can leave you feeling like you are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Animation showing the impact of vendors trying to pull organisations forward faster then they are comfortable with. The backdrop is a Rogers Innovation Curve
Vendor influence upon the adoption of technology

On one side the vendors, trend setters and innovators want you to adopt new technology and to complicate matters they will keep shifting their position to the next shiny new toy. On the other side organisations and individuals are on the whole reluctant to embrace change. For many change equals disruption which equals loss of productivity. (This is a near sighted view as, through the appropriate application of technology, the outcome should actually be an improvement in productivity but sometimes this is intangible and so hard to quantify. This causes other challenges but those are for another conversation.) The direction from our business leaders is for technology and work to become tightly interwoven.

Being at the heart of this conflict, the IT Pro can influence direction both internally within their own organisation but externally with the vendors, trend setters and innovators. The power of influence can be exponentially increased through community.

The habits included in this section are:

Habit 3 – Use the opportunity to become an internal consultant

The starting point is to recognise that both groups (your organisation and vendors) are in cycles of incubate > iterate > integrate. The model works equally well with product features and products themselves as well as business direction.

In a technology setting “Incubate” and incubation is all about new features and products in a separate space where they can provide value to a small subset of customers. The space needs to be inconspicuous to the majority but discoverable to the relevant minority. Think of apps like Find Time and To Do. From a business perspective we are talking start-up, new ideas or updates to processes.

The next state is “Iterate”. In iterate both businesses and technologies iterate on the underlying functionality, algorithms, data, curation, etc. and validate it with real usage, feedback and areas like improved profit. They keep doing this until it’s proven useful to a large portion of users, consumers or customers. Disclaimer: this can take many years. From a technology perspective think Yammer which has been iterating for 10-years or Microsoft Teams, which is iterating faster for less time, less than 5 years!

The final state is “Integrate” This is were the now high quality and de-risked feature or product is available to all prominently throughout the core experience. Think Outlook and Word. For vendors this is where they feel that the product is sufficiently mature and is their core offering.

image presents a dictionary definition of the word proactive
definition of proactive

Once you spot where a given feature or product is in its lifecycle you can work to align your internal direction to match. Your work could be to temper the enthusiasm of a CIO who wants the latest shiny new toy as you recognise that it is still in the incubate state which means its inclusion in an area that is in the integrate state could be too disruptive / unstable etc. Think adding blockchain based transactions to the finance department. Or to the contrary disruption could be just what they want… The understanding of states passes through into communications, help desk support and beyond. Yammer and Teams are in the iteration state (some may argue that they may never leave that state) but the frequency of these cycles is different. Teams is running at an unrelating pace with new features and components appearing weekly. With announcements like the availability of ‘Lists’, Microsoft would consider it beyond the incubate state but the iterations are still too fast and with it the rate of change. Yammer is now in a steady cycle of iterations which are informed by A/B tests. Yes they are still testing and validating but their cycles are longer and more considered. Knowing the states helps you to respond to questions that bemoan say the renaming of the Discovery feed in Yammer or users losing where a button is because Teams keep moving its location.

The second component of direction is understanding where your organisation is heading. There is no doubt that business leaders have been reading too many HBR, McKinsey and Gartner articles and are being lured by the vendors to embrace the cloud or buy a shiny new toy. This is creating a pull. The push is coming from their own organisation which is likely to be resistant of change. Additional sources of push include regulatory or legal blockers to change or unbudgeted costs, a culture that is too busy or components that are not yet supported. You’ll find when pushed people are very creative when it comes to the number of reasons for resisting change 😉 I’m not saying you cannot mix and match states it’s just worth knowing that your mileage may vary. In the next segment I will show you how to quickly approximate the state of the organisation or simply yourself. The key to understanding both your personal internal direction and that of the organisation is to talk with your colleagues, peers and stakeholders. This may push you outside of your comfort zone but be bold and take advantage of the opportunities to lead and guide. Use the opportunity to become an internal consultant.

Whilst often direction is set at the organisational level, you can and should influence it. To that end you should establish a shared vision with your stakeholders and your partners. Setting a vision can seem a little abstract but there are plenty of public resources and communities willing to help. You can also enlist a partner or trusted consultant to help. In order to become an internal consultant I recommend that you:

  • Be super curious
  • Suspend your judgement
  • Be authentic
  • Always check your assumptions

Habit 4 – Improve your situational awareness

The term “situational awareness” is usually used in the context of safety. But it is equally applicable to your evolution as an IT Pro . Used in its normal context, situational awareness is about being aware of what is happening around you in terms of where you are, where you are supposed to be, and whether anyone or anything around you is a threat to your health and safety. If we remove the safety context then situational awareness can be applied in a way that makes you more effective as an IT Pro. Simplified it is simply knowing what’s going on around you. The key to knowing what is going on around you is to observe, orient, decide and act.

Diner scene from the film The Bourne Identity. Jason Bourne is explaining to Marie how he has used his acute understanding of situational awareness
“I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting at the counter weighs two hundred and fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab of the grey truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking” Jason Bourne demonstrates acute situational awareness in the film ‘The Bourne Identity’.

Observe

The process starts with observation. Your knowledge, experience and education enables you to understand what is going on around you and helps you to determine what should be done. Everyone’s situational awareness is individual and potentially different. We can use our situational awareness to make decisions and instruct others.

However, our situational awareness is only as accurate as our own perception or reading of the situation, so what we think is happening may not accurately reflect reality. How we read a situation can be influenced by many things such as the type of information we have been given, our own experience and distractions that surround us in the workplace.

The key to observation is to take into account new information about your changing environment and not just acceptance of the status quo. Just because it has always been done that way does not mean it is the right way. Observation is about combining existing knowledge with new material to develop a more open mind. Observation cannot be performed in isolation. It needs to be performed in context as that allows you to orient your mind towards making a good decision.

Orientate

Orientation can leave you feeling like you are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Given the pace of industry there is often a mountain of new knowledge from the vendors, trend setters, and innovators who want you to adopt new technology, and to complicate matters they keep shifting their position to the next shiny new toy. On the other side, the organisation you work for and individuals are on the whole reluctant to embrace change. There is a drive for technology and business to become tightly interwoven. The pace, the abundance of knowledge and options, and tension act can affect your orientation.

image presents a dictionary definition of the word empathy
definition of empathy

Tension can be reduced through the use of Empathy. Empathy is the corner stone of Covey’s 5th Habit “Seek first to understand, then to be understood“. When applied empathy allows you to genuinely understand the people you are interacting with (in particular those that you are planning to affect with a change). Empathy compels people to reciprocate and take an open mind to being influenced by you.

Orientation allows you to understand context and talking with your colleagues, peers, and stakeholders will push you outside of your comfort zone, but be bold and take advantage of the opportunities to lead and guide. Coupled with Habit 3, use the opportunity to become an internal consultant and use Habits 1 and 2 to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Once you have observed and orientated yourself to the situation the next step is to decide upon what to do. Now before you leap, make sure you look first. It wise to reflect upon your decision before you act especially when applying something that worked somewhere else.

Decide

Every organisation and every person has a baseline. A baseline is what’s “normal” in a given situation, and it will differ from person to person and organisation to organisation. Ask yourself:

  • What’s going on here?
  • What’s the mood?
  • What does normal activity look like?
  • What do people expect?
  • How do most people behave?
  • What would cause someone or something to stand out?

Including these questions should complete the picture and will inform your decision.

Act

Good decisions are based upon having a plan of action based on what you observe. Given the often frenetic pace of work you may not have time to formulate a well thought out plan. What’s more with pace comes stress which might muddle your thinking and decision making. Even in a fast moving situation observe as much as you can, rapidly orientate yourself using the key questions (even if you do not have time to write the answers down), make your decision and act.

Sometimes we’re forced to settle for decisions that aren’t perfect, but make sure they are good enough. Its more about “change with guardrails” and not “change with prescription”.

Complex situations may require multiple actions where you play out scenarios. Your actions may require the need to “A/B test”. Whatever you do, do not fire and forget. Observe, orient, decide, act is a loop. Watch what happens and learn from it.

Situational awareness is a mindset that you have to purposefully cultivate. You want to get to the point that it’s just something you do without having to think about it. To get to that point, you have to practice it regularly. Starting today, consciously remind yourself to look for entry/exit points whenever you enter a new building as this helps to train your brain into constant observation (as well as helping you to keep safe). Start observing people and establishing baselines and generating possible anomalies while you’re at work, in the park, or at home. Use empathy to build an atmosphere of caring, and positive problem solving. And then start coming up with action plans on what you would do in a specific situation. Don’t be paranoid, just be mindful. Do that day in and day out, and situational awareness won’t be something you have to intentionally think about, just something you do naturally.

Habit 5 – Understand your propensity to change

There has been a constant strand running through the project to this point. That strand is change. To be effective you’ll need to make some changes and continue to make changes. I think this is the toughest part of all. It is the cornerstone upon which success is built. The challenge is knowing where and how to start. As human beings we are wired for change adversity. The web is awash with guidance around change and you can use some of the generic approaches to help you build a picture of your propensity, your inclination, your natural tendency to behave in a particular way when faced with change.

image presents a dictionary definition of the word empathy
definition of attitude

If you do use a generic tool, use it with a pinch of salt. Many tools will position you on a scale that looks similar a bell curve (Roger’s Innovation Adoption Curve), and categorise you with terms like laggard, early adopter, etc. It is important to understand the context. For example, as an IT Pro who specialises in security, I suggest that you need to be operating near to the bleeding edge in terms of understanding attack vectors, actors and vulnerabilities. You need to be ready to change and adapt at a rate similar to that of the bad actors. However, you might want to be cautious when it comes to the early adoption of new security solutions as the solutions’ own vulnerabilities may be a bit of an unknown.

Once you have a feel for your propensity to change you can take steps to work on the habits that matter to you. In doing so do not try and change yourself as you are unlikely to succeed. Rather put the effort into improving the way you perform and surround yourself with people and community that help you fill in the gaps. If you are not a details person, find someone who can be your details person and allow yourself to focus on your strengths.

Summary

This section covered three habits:

Habit 3 will provide you will an understanding of the environment you are in. It can also provide you with opportunities to change your role and the organisation you are in. You’ve probably mastered Habit 4 without really realising it. Habit 5 is all about you and is the foundation to all of the other habits. If you do not initiate a change here then the others will be hard to master. The key take aways are:

  • Check your assumptions, be curious, be authentic and suspend your judgement
  • Observe the situation, orientate yourself, decide and then act
  • Decisions do not always have to be perfect, use guardrails rather than prescription
  • Understand your own propensity to change

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