Introducing a new way to do a job to experts in how it’s done now is hard.

The six dimensions of business function optimization can tell us  we need to find new and better ways to do a particular job. But, as a species, we struggle with doing something in a different way, using different tools, at least at the beginning. This struggle regularly kills business change projects, and study after study points out that paying insufficient attention to Business Change Management is one of  the top one or two reasons that a project may fail.

This isn’t new. I am guessing that some Babylonian construction engineer ran into problems with the team when he introduced them to a better way to build a ziggurat.

And, the “Remote First” approach to Project work has made Change management much, much harder.

Let’s start with trust, which is necessary for change management. It takes some different tools and skills to engage in trusted conversations in a remote meeting, and it isn’t a given.

Years ago, one colleague told me that he felt that needed to be in the same room as somebody to absorb their “pheromones” to help build trust. I am not sure those would be the words that I would choose, but it describes what some people might be feeling.

Second, the tools themselves are different for collaboration. There is a tremendous amount of innovation in collaborative tools, but with this innovation we need to do “Meta Training” on the use of new tools that help enable distributed collaboration. For example, instead of gathering around a white board, we may use a tool like Linq to map out a business process.  But, we will jointly need to invest the time to learn how to best use it so it feels as natural as drawing on a whiteboard. Even if we can do much more than we could have with the whiteboard, unless using it is intuitive we won’t get there.  Frustration with the collaboration tools could nudge us into the change resistance swamp right here at the beginning of the conversation.

So what else is to be done?  There are a lot of schools of thought on this, but I think we can get to a few takeaways that can lead to some quick improvements.

  • Use the right communication tool for the job. For critical conversations, Face to Face conversations are better than Video meetings. Video conversations are better than chat or email. And, by the way, insist that all parties keep their cameras on. Otherwise it isn’t a video meeting! Choose video because text messages with emojis may not help you get the alignment that you are craving. The overriding rule is that the most immediate and personal tool for a critical conversation is probably the best one.
  • When it comes to change, people really want two things in life—To feel like they are being heard, and to feel like they are not out of control. (This isn’t the same as feeling in control, it turns out). Simple tools (regardless of technology) that help them feel like they are being listened to, and that they are in control go a long way in building confidence. Working out rules of listening to each other, and “back briefing” of what the other party is expressing are like magic to Change Management.


  • The basic, (dare I say “Bare Bones”) tools for Change Management still work. Tools like a Stakeholder analysis, Training Plan and Culture Change Plan should be in the top tray of your toolbox. These tools will help you anticipate and plan activities that will give your business change project a fighting chance of success.

Final point– Change Management really could be thought of as another form of understanding and helping people deal with loss, and especially with the loss of the value their hard-won expertise gave them. They’re dealing, that is, with grief. People act unpredictably when they are grieving, and don’t always behave at their best.  Going with the wisdom a colleague named Daryl, I think it helps to always assume positive intent in the other parties—which is somehow harder to do when we are not face to face, and trying to read emotions or understand somebody via the small cues on a glitchy video tile.

Not to mention replacing body language with emojis when you’re trying to make a point.



Beware the “Tom Peters Fallacy.” As identified in this space back in 2007, it goes like this:

  1. Find a great organization.
  2. Identify a trait in that organization you like.
  3. Decide that this trait is what makes that organization great.
  4. Declare that this trait is the panacea for all other organizations.

This week’s perpetrator is the estimable Jeff Bezos. Mr. Bezos started with the dream of selling books online and turned it into the … that’s the, not a … retailing behemoth and the most important cloud computing platform.

And so disagreeing with Bezos about part of his success formula calls for caution.

No, this isn’t a commentary on how Amazon treats its employees. That’s well-plowed turf. It’s about Bezos’s approach to organizational decision-making.

In a wide-ranging interview on the Lex Fridman Podcast, reported by Business Insider’s Sawdah Bhaimiya, Bezos asserts that compromise is a bad way to resolve disagreements. It’s bad, he says, because it takes little energy, but “doesn’t lead to truth.”

Start here: Leaders have five ways to make a decision in their toolkit: They can (1) make it (authoritarianism); (2) make it after talking it over with folks worth talking it over with (consultation); (3) persuade and influence everyone involved to agree to a solution (consensus); (4) give up on consensus and let stakeholders vote on their preferred alternative (voting); or (5) ask someone or other to make the decision for you (delegation).

When Bezos talks about compromise, he’s talking about doing what’s needed to get to consensus. He starts out wrong because if there’s one universal truth about consensus decision-making it’s that consensus takes far more time and effort than any way to get to a decision.

But how about the getting-to-the-truth part?

To be fair, when it comes to his strawman case – deciding how high a room’s ceiling is, he’s right on target: A tape measure yields results superior to compromise. But then, it’s superior to any of the five listed decision styles because, also to be fair, direct observation doesn’t count as a decision, unless you live in a space-time continuum in which alternative facts hold sway.

More significantly, delve into the branch of philosophical inquiry known as epistemology, or just review Plato’s cave allegory, and, in addition to acquiring a migraine you’ll figure out that none of us has access to “the truth.” We can approach it asymptotically (add Karl Popper to your reading list), but so far as the truth is concerned, knowing the answer to a question with confidence is the best we can aspire to. Certainty? Even knowing the height of your ceiling depends on you trusting your measuring tape’s manufacturer.

All of which might strike you as philosophical dithering. But when it comes to organizational decision-making, decisions of any consequence rest in part on unverifiable assumptions, often about the unknowable future. So with all the best of intentions, different participants, making different and conflicting assumptions and forecasts, will reach different conclusions. Which will result in a list of conflicting but equally valid possible right decisions to choose from.

You can either pick one, or find a compromise that’s right enough.

Sometimes, picking one of the alternatives and going with it is the best choice. It’s the engineering optimum, and would yield the best results. As someone once said, no committee ever painted a Mona Lisa.

But engineering optima can face a frustrating constraint: Without buy-in on the part of the decision’s major stakeholders even the most elegant designs will fail, while an inferior, messy compromise to which the whole organization is committed to will succeed.

Bob’s last word: I have one more nit to pick, and that’s Bezos’s implicit assumption that decisions are about discovering “the truth.” That isn’t what decisions are for.

When it comes to organizations, decisions, as has been pointed out in this space from time to time, commit or deny staffing, time, and money. Anything else is just talking.

Decisions, that is, are about designing solutions and choosing courses of action. “The truth” implies these are binary – right or wrong. But competing designs and courses of action are better or worse, not right or wrong. And what constitutes better or worse depends on each evaluator’s personal values and priorities.

No tape measure in the world will reconcile these when they conflict.

Bob’s sales pitch: Stick around. We’re still working through the complexities of handing over the keys to KJR, as it were. And as with just about everything else on this planet, no matter how simple a task looks before someone has to do it, having to do it reveals complexities that someone didn’t anticipate.

We are working on it, shooting for early next year to make it happen.

Watch this space.