The Miyagi Method of Organizational Transformation
A couple months ago, one of our senior clients ran up to us and announced, “I finally get it. You guys are Mr. Miyagi. Wax on, wax off, right? RIGHT?”
No one had ever described our theory of change management and organizational transformation in that way, but it’s apt.
A History Lesson
Management consulting is an almost 100-year old industry with a very simple proposition: watch how a successful company does something, package it as a “best practice”, and sell that best practice to every other organization (even their competitors). McKinsey and its ilk peddle the same “Centers of Excellence” and hefty Powerpoint presentations to each of their clients for an ever-increasing profit margin. It’s a clever business model, but as it’s become the norm in every large organization, it’s had two very bad unintended consequences:
- Management consulting has wrongly encouraged companies to outsource their own ability to change. That critical muscle of sensing and responding to new ways of working and operating your business is now something you can rent from others, instead of an ability you can hone on your own to be a competitive advantage.
- Management consulting has caused the internal rate of change inside organizations to slow, even as the rate of change outside has increased. If you sell best practices, it’s more profitable for those best practices to change LESS frequently so you can continue to profit from each for a longer period of time. Constant research is simply less profitable than selling the same idea over and over again.
In the last few years, the big consulting firms have done a good job at giving themselves a fresh coat of paint and paying lip service to digital, adaptivity, and resilience. But the fundamentals of their business model haven’t changed. If our clients are any indication, organizations are becoming increasingly frustrated with Big Consulting’s templated solutions and detached bedside manner.
If you’ve worked with any of the big consulting firms — and if you’re reading this, you probably have — you know the drill: McKinsey/BCG/et al shows up, diagnoses your problem, and delivers a complicated framework borrowed from a competitor, typically in the form of a fancy Powerpoint deck. (Operationalizing and enforcing it among your people, though, are your problem.) This feels like you’re getting to a solution faster, but there’s a catch: even the consulting firms admit that they have a catastrophically high failure rate. It turns out that shoving complicated models down the throats of overworked and disempowered people isn’t a recipe for long-lasting change.
With us, it could feel like you’re just painting a fence in the first weeks. Sure, you’re learning new skills and exposing your challenges, but all of our clients hit a moment where the entire team or department cries out for substantial change. We let this happen by design. We need the full team not just curious about change, but hungry for it. This is when we know that the internal conditions of the team are truly ripe for new ways of working.
We manage this process around our ABC’s.
- Attitudes: Is change preferred to no change?
- Behaviors: Is there a process for continuous improvement?
- Conditions: Are there enough internal resources to be able to support change in parallel with the existing work?
- Directions: Do people believe in the power of change to improve work?
Once we optimize all four, we have all the necessary conditions for long-lasting, ultimately exponential change. Until then, any change we introduce will be rejected, as if a failed organ transplant.
Wax On, Wax Off
With those conditions met, we begin the following process with our clients. (If you’re a consultant yourself, please steal this so we can stop making the global economy so damn brittle.)
- We train 20% of your staff to be coaches alongside us. On Day One, we start to identify and train a cohort of employees in how we approach defining challenges and designing organizational solutions.
- We help you experiment with leading practices. We have a dedicated research team that scours the world for new ways of working. But we don’t label these “best practices”, as the context and culture of an organization should dictate what’s best, not the title of a Powerpoint slide. We help clients experiment with a few different ways to solve a problem until they find the solution that shows the best results for their business and their people.
- We train your retrospective muscle. Decades of agile and lean practices have proven that looking back on the work and suggesting slight changes to how you work helps build a culture of continuous improvement. We show clients how to conduct these meetings and how to ensure that the proposed changes stick.
Wait, I’m Not a Consultant!
If you just want to know how you can apply this approach to your team right now, here are four simple rules to keep in mind:
- Prepare for the long haul. Your team’s capacity for change is a more valuable skill, long-term, than any single change in the short term.
- Reward curiosity. Create a culture of curiosity for HOW the work gets done as much as the end result of the work.
- Practice, practice, practice. Practice the process of identifying, executing, and refining change. Make this process a cultural habit.
- Hire for resiliency. An organization should be as dynamic internally as its world is externally. Some people thrive in these conditions, others do not. If your market is chaotic, hire people that can thrive among chaos.