ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - July 2001


Issue Highlight — Turnabout Is Fair Play
- Take a look back at one of Peter Block's best columns as he helps bridge the gap between employee and manager and offers his invaluable "Employee Manifesto."

 In This Issue...
Getting Back To Basics
Change Of Space
Banking On Quality
Is Your Quality Process "Running On Empty?"
Recommended By A Friend

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change

Brief Cases

Return to NFC Index

Change Of Space
The Impact of Space in Implementing Company Change Programs

Tom Colvin was excited. As vice president of human resources for a booming dot-com, he had spent the past six months developing a new recruitment program. The program had all the bells and whistles of the latest Internet technology including finding the best new employees available, matching them with the most appropriate job function and allowing everyone on the global human resources team to share information. And today was the meeting when he would lay out the program parameters for the team of 50 human resources generalists. Betsy Kohart, Colvin’s assistant, walked in the room 10 minutes before the meeting and felt the program’s ultimate implementation success was threatened.

   Why? Betsy noted that all of the chairs were set in regimented rows facing the speaker podium complete with a PowerPoint projector. Each chair had its detailed agenda of the steps for the implementation and a schedule of the assigned training days for each of the 50 generalists. The room itself consisted of white walls, no windows and one door next to the front of the room.

Engagement in Change vs. Installation
Sound familiar? While Betsy and Tom are names that have been changed, the situation is real and similar scenarios are played out daily in companies around the world. Companies invest massive amounts of resources in developing new programs to improve their business results and when it comes time to implement these programs, they are forced upon employees.

   “Most change strategies are simply sophisticated forms of coercion and create resistance within the very individuals we want to implement the change,” notes Phil Grosnick, president of Designed Learning, a Fanwood, New Jersey-based company that helps companies and individuals develop their consulting skills.

   “The problem,” notes Grosnick, “lies in how we view implementation. It is not a set of tasks to be done but a process of engaging others, garnering support and valuing dissent and diverse opinions. And the space in which we engage others in the change is one of tools we can use to accomplish this.”

   Most of us have had plenty of experience in the typical meeting rooms. Airless, windowless, sterile environments—an operating room of sorts. The subtle implication, like an operating room, is that something is going to be done to you by someone else and your ability for choice is limited. The meetings become anesthetized, a prison sentence of one to two hours that we simply want to survive. It is, in short, the inherent culture. The fact is managers do not implement decisions. They get implemented when employees commit themselves and choose to be accountable.

Embracing Nature
“Deming, in fact, insisted that meetings be held in such rooms and in towns that had nothing to offer,” says Jan Tritsch, director of program planning and work process redesign for Visiting Nurse Service of New York. “His fear—that if people had these distractions—no one would return after lunch.

   “Unfortunately, our bodies and minds do not work that way,” says Tritsch. “We should embrace nature and work with it rather than against it. If people are not returning from their breaks and lunches, then perhaps they are not engaged in the meeting and we need to address their lack of engagement.”

   “If the program is about change then we must do something different than what we did before,” Grosnick notes. “Why would we not allow the environment to fit the purpose? And furthermore, why would we not allow participants to make that decision?”

   “When you begin an event, the first item should be setting the context of the meeting and focusing on how the group wants to proceed. Part of that context is how to set up the facility.”

Rearranging the Room
Grosnick designed with Peter Block a two-day workshop entitled, “Flawless Consulting 3: Implementation,” based on the new material in Block’s second edition of the best-selling “Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used.” One of the simulations used in the two-day workshop is to allow the participants to rearrange the room to best fit their intentions for the meeting. This occurs after a context-setting situation where attendees discuss their responses to four basic questions: How valuable do they plan the experience of the workshop to be? How participative do they plan to be? How much risk are they planning to take? How concerned for the entire community do they plan to be? The key is, as in any meeting or change program, participants choose and plan their responses to these items. They cannot be facilitated or drilled into them.

   “I was conducting a workshop where we asked the hotel to leave the room exactly as it was that evening,” notes Grosnick. “The next morning we entered the room and practically everything was back in rows with a podium. Vanished were the pods for individuals to confer in small groups and the center circular table. We were back to the default culture.” And that default culture is what most change programs have to address.

   “The default culture will win out if you do not do something specific or concrete—a concerted effort to change the environment. Right now, we are so used to the space the way it is, that this sets the message, ‘business as usual is no more.’ We must begin by making a concerted effort to change the environment,” adds Grosnick.

   Space is also more than the place where we come together to meet. “It also includes groupings,” says Charles Fields, principal of The Fields Company, Tolland, Conn. “I have become more conscious of the rooms where we meet to do things. Most of the places that we go to meet and deliberate to come together are very sterile and unfriendly. Meeting planners feel that windows just distract us, and that is unfortunate. I used creativity and innovation and had to deal with those typical meeting rooms. I used to work to create a user-friendly space even in the most boring environments. Many times I would bring a bunch of posters and allow attendees to select one and post it on the wall. The traditional room simply reinforces that the person in the front of the room with the crayon has the control. Engaging people in change is about shifting that view to one of shared control and accountability. You can demonstrate that very emphatically by changing the room in which you speak. I often encourage anyone who takes a new job to change the position of their desk. After all, if we come together in the same way we always have, we will only get what we’ve already got.”

Space—the Turbo that Drives the Meeting Engine
“In some of the more successful meetings I have participated in, the lay out, the look and the décor definitely impacted my propensity to get involved with the conversation. However, if the content is something that is engaging to me already, the room has less of an impact,” says Tracy McDonald, director of human resource service, AgriBank, FCB, St. Paul, Minn. “I like to view utilizing the space as a turbo engine. If the meeting and design is the engine for engagement then the space is the turbo or booster. If the room looks dingy that sets a tone or mood that you can overcome given the right activities, but it doesn’t from the very beginning and open it up to engagement. And what is crucial is engagement. I recently conducted sessions around establishing a peer-to-peer evaluation program,” continues McDonald. “People generally have a lot of reservations around such programs. Normally, our meeting room would have been set up classroom style, but I was able to get tables of 5-6.” McDonald asked the group key questions about their commitment to the program and asked what reservations people had about moving forward. “We flip charted the limitations and then discussed them as a group. The new approach engaged people in a different way that made the implementation smoother,” adds McDonald.

   Luckily for Tom Colvin, Betsy Kohart was able to quickly rearrange the room and Tom allowed the 50 human resources generalists to choose their forms of engagement including arranging the room. The program was ultimately implemented with ease. Tom and Betsy and their counterparts found that by changing the room, they changed the conversation. And when it comes to implementing change programs, conversation is where it starts—authentic conversation—allowing everyone a voice of support or dissent and working as a community to make the implementation successful.

July 2001 News for a Change Homepage

  • Print this page
  • Save this page

Average Rating


Out of 0 Ratings
Rate this item

View comments
Add comments
Comments FAQ

ASQ News