Dear Beloved Clients

Stop Planing, Start Being + Doing

Kathryn Maloney M.A. ABS

A consulting advisor and organisation designer to leaders, founders, and teams for 25 years, Kathryn weaves systems change vision and initiatives into strategy, priorities, and operating from outcomes. From her wheelhouse, she taps into how you communicate, relate, operate, work, lead, and group think; infuses presence, power, and self-awareness onto broad, prioritised organisation strategy; and designs tangible change to elevate your system's potential and expand its human value.

more about Kathryn
, New York City

2023, Author's Note

I wrote a version of the article below back in 2018 when we were early in building a ways of working consultancy, The Ready. The article garnered a lot of love from the Agile community because it spoke words into what eluded many practicing within those walls. What I brought to our build and practice then and continue to hold dear today is "beware of the snake charm!" You'll never be done, it will always be effort, humans are complex and unpredictable, and the change path is far from linear. Evolving a system upward is daring human work, plain and simple. No framework is ever going to shortcut that reality. Plenty of practitioners or salespeople may try convincing you otherwise. Take any scaffold imagined, and use it with this knowing. When you eventually grasp deep in your gut how true and tangible change comes about from the people (collective intention, aware being, applied doing, vibrational shifting) not from the scaffold (mere ideas, performative application, simplistic narratives), you'll truly tabulate some quantum shifting.

[2018 Originally]

I had so many conversations back then about the inherent values and differences between the approach we were designing and an Agile approach to transforming the way a system and teams operate. I was admittedly impatient around these types of comparisons for a few reasons.

  1. The first is that what pretty much always sits behind the questions is the reptilian brain wanting to negotiate risk, fear, and impotence veiled as an intellectual exercise around practice and methodology. I get this and am empathetic to it, and I also have to name it.

  2. A second reason is that I am a fan of good and ethical practice, regardless of how it is packaged or named. We weren’t the end all, nor was any other. But, our methodology and practice coming into the collective at that time were innovative, thoughtful, and fresh. Others may have been as well?

  3. And lastly, I’m forever a person and practitioner who has a far deeper commitment to leading the experience of change over debating and cognating about change. The reason for this is that if you are standing in a place of wondering about changing, most likely you are in need of changing. To get you changing, we have to begin activating it  –  which does not happen by talking about it.

Too much time and money is spent considering change versus just doing it   – and I am far happier to get you moving.

Below were my thoughts in response to change framework common questions, and maybe more importantly to the questions behind the questions.

Systemic Organisational Thinking

We know that every organization has many nested operating systems. They are made up of the countless assumptions, principles, practices, and behaviors that manifest into culture. Adaptive and resilient organizations understand that being deliberate about their way of working is as essential as a continuous process of leveraging new tools, practices, and rhythms to root

  • thinking strategically,

  • working iteratively, and

  • learning constantly.

Any smart change framework ought to provoke systemic thinking, conversations, and reflections about all these elements of an organizational system. It should also provide scaffold to consider and act on cultural, behavioral, and structural shifts  –  and illustrate how these all knit together to create a living, breathing, constantly evolving whole.

Applied Changing

An Agile (capital "A") transformation effort, Design Thinking, or a Lean Startup basis are all foundationally pulling from the deep well of systems change methodology and resources — whether overtly understood by the users or not. You will feel commonalities in the designs and the spoken language around change. Whether it is the install of standups, learning to work and scale iteratively, emergently designing, or introducing retrospectives you are participating in the methodological realm of change packaged under different labels.

Where I am always cautious, and even skeptical,  is the human proclivity to fall into the ideology trap. Commoditizing or adopting any methods or practices as a whole system change ideology (versus a method of intervention) will quickly create limitations on their application and sustainability in complex, perpetually changing ecosystems. Any framework can be an inroad to enliven a system to be and do differently. None should ever be sold, promised, or practiced as end states.

Designing change and transforming culture norms require new awarenesses, alternative tools to work and operate by, fresh techniques — and willingness. Learning what these are and being able to make them distinctly your own so you deliberately get better as people, a team, and an entire organization every day is a framework's potential value. (If it has any value to begin with.) A framework can serve as a map and navigational tool to start, before designing and adopting your own. The risk will always be that the individual and collective monkey mind will want to grab hold too tightly to the new "known", desperately wanting and then expecting the externalised framework to actually be and do the change. And, then be able to blame it when it leaves everyone a bit vacant and disheveled.

To transform any system, you must first experience and learn new tools and techniques, and then you must learn how to apply and integrate them to your given system resistance, culture, and norms. You want to understand and embody better how to work more dynamically as a transforming system, because we live in a world of work and leading that demands of-the-moment choreography. You also want to consciously apply individual and collective rigor and consistency. This is because designing tangible change needs to become foundational and perpetual to compete and thrive in today’s fast-changing, globally connected world.

All of these take courage, muscle development, and getting out of your own way.

To do the above well, you must stop merely talking conceptually. Instead, you need to create contexts and be in the experience of learning and changing by applied doing. By design, change work in this way is disorienting, yet gives you a far better shot at becoming who and what you envision much more quickly.

Mindsets Shifting

Org design, agile, lean, holacracy  —  or any otherwise named transformation work are all mindset shifts first. They are not destinations and frankly, rarely is there an arrival. (Progressive change means nothing is static.) Interrogating your entrenched personal, team, and organizational mindsets is an enormous part of any change work. All deeply important to the adoption of a new context from which you learn, create, innovate, work, and thrive. New meeting structures, decision tools, communication technology, teaming ways are all well and good. But if you are not prepared to give up what you know to make room for what you don’t yet know  — and feel slightly off balance in the process  — far less new and different will occur.

The reason being that it is simply impossible to change without changing. Talking about changing is merely delaying effort. Good, ethical, and experienced transformation practitioners of any vein can and will provide the tilled soil, but you ultimately have to sow the seeds.

This understanding and motivation has to start right from the beginning of considering a change effort. When you keep yourselves honest here, you have less chance of falling prey to the ideology traps or to the false logic that you aren't the one needing changing.

Here are some universal goalposts and mindset shifts to rely on when embarking on any agile, lean, new ways of working, or otherwise termed transformation journey.

Experiencing is Believing

Talking about change is like writing about beautiful fashion without the visual or describing an amazing meal or beautiful wine without tasting it. Seeing and feeling are far more powerful and emotional  —  and doing or scaling change lives in the actual experience.

  • Show rather than tell.

  • Put down the megaphone, stop wordsmithing, debating or opining, and just do.

People will feel the commitment and glow, and it will naturally spread.

Don’t Wait for Permission

While org change and transformation rhetoric became steeped in top-down sponsorship and while having strong leadership ringfence change efforts is extremely helpful, both are not deal breakers. Small groups of thoughtful citizens can change the world. They’ve been doing it forever.

  • Declare your independence (at least to yourself.)

  • Step into your personal authority, and show people the way.

  • Make people curious and take notice of your chaning, rather than wait for permission.

This is leading.

Prepare to Lose in Order to Gain

Making space to learn new ideas and develop new muscles is an imperative. Otherwise, it is like dieting while eating all the same bad things or moving without dropping stuff off at Goodwill.

  • Shedding is a natural part of evolution.

  • Gripping and attachment exist to create friction around growth and change.

  • Resistance is what causes adaptation energy.

Lean in and let go.

Mind your Ego

The monkey mind will trick you at every turn into believing that it is unsafe to try new things; stupid to not drive, drive, drive rather than create space for bigger thinking, deeper connecting, and reflective learning; dangerous to not know all the possible pitfalls before trying; and downright ignorant to show vulnerability, fault, or god-willing take a risk.

  • Leading means learning to not be dragged down the street in the shackles of your ego.

  • Instead, settle into the very humanity that is you.

  • Take off the veil.

  • Quiet the noise

Let you radiate.

Stop Planning and Start Doing

Project plans have been an outdated methodology for at least a decade, if not longer. We live in a time where anticipating, adapting, and pivoting are three of the most critical leadership skills needed in any role, in any organization, in any industry.

  • Test and learn your way into next steps rather than falsely believing you can predict and plan your way to innovation.

  • Set a direction, but steer continuously.

  • Everything around you will change far faster than your project plan allows for so use tools that enable and support responsiveness.

Think wayfinding over navigating.

Be Grateful and Present

Learning from others and about ourselves, being on a team with good humans, and having the opportunity to contribute to something bigger are nothing short of gifts.

  • Don’t artificially or passively be grateful.

  • Look for moments that kick your ass or even peel back the slightest layer of new awareness or thinking — and feel the gratitude for being alive and present to the experience.

  • Say thank you.

  • Tell people you love them.

  • Live the moments consciously.

It’s contagious.

None of the above is easy, fast, or linear which maps perfectly to understanding the complexity of systems.

No framework is a panacea to magically become a system wired to an innovation, change, and transformation basis. They also don't magically make for strong practitioners to hold the space.

You will need to step in and do the work of change. Your monkey mind will need to get worked over. You will need to allow.

The choice has to be about learning with courage, experiencing yourself differently, and being in the truth of how systems, change, and work actually work  —  and using tools, practices, and methods to enable that. Sometimes, you may use more than one method over time or even two methods at the same time. Fantastic. If it serves to create and leverage change as energy and toward a better understanding of how to lead, operate, and organize from a perpetual state of change you are then doing work that matters.

Just start by starting, making sure you are doing real work. You’ll know because it feels challenging, personal, enlivening  —  and yet not ideological. Then, just keep evolving from there.

You’ve got this. x

by Kathryn Maloney M.A. ABS
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