The Soft Stuff is the Hard Stuff

In 1999 I was Communications Manager for the World Bank's enterprise resource planning (erp) initiative. We were gutting over 100 disconnected systems and replacing them with a single real-time application.

At the behest of our Steering Committee, I hired Michael Hammer, the international best-selling author of Reengineering the Corporation, to come and speak to our people. We negotiated him to 50% of his regular fee, which was still almost 10% of my total budget. I was not happy about that.

I programmed Hammer's time at the WBank heavily. Over the course of the day we had 6 meetings including two in standing-room-only auditoriums, one with the Vice Presidents, and one with our 200-person development team. The only place I let him go unescorted was the bathroom.

As it turned out, that chunk of change gave me more bang for the buck than any other single activity I supervised. Michael is the kind of speaker who gets better as the day gets longer. Over and over again he repeated his mantras. One was, The soft stuff is the hard stuff. What he meant was that the technology will work, but the people might not.

It is the people-side of the change equation that is difficult to get right. It requires an investment in communications, training, and support, usually 1-3% of the total project. That is a relatively small but exceedingly important portion.

Participation - Engagement - Buy-in - This is the stuff of successful change.And it's not something that can be gained through a transaction.Rather, it requires generative dialogue.It is, in fact, voluntary evolution.

Since that time I have dedicated my professional development to understanding how people change themselves and their business processes in service to a higher goal. The approach is highly interactive. Rather than top-down, it is inside-out. As people generate new insights and understanding their behavior changes.The real territory of change is inner space.

People construct their shared view of the world socially, through interaction. If you want people to operate synergistically from a shared vision, you must give them the opportunity to think and talk about it together. You must go beyond sending emails, constructing power-points, and otherwise delivering messages to them. You must convene them. And the higher the risk and opportunity, the better face-to-face is for getting the job done.

Every major stakeholder must become a player, with skin in the game and the opportunity to craft their destiny. The change leader's job is not so much to set the vision and inform everyone else. Rather it is to convene the players in the right context and allow them to generate the future they will to strive to achieve. That's engagement. That's buy-in.