Rocks in the Canoe

(Image Courtesy of Imagekind)

We either build or inherit organizations. Either we started it from scratch, or we came into the organization once formed.

The organization is intended to move forward, presumably in an efficient, smooth, and relatively safe way: Like a Canoe. (Work with me here.)

You want your Canoe (organization) to get to the destination with ease of effort and maybe even enjoyment along the way.

You are trying to paddle your Canoe forward.

You are probably good at watching for rocks outside of your Canoe.

But there is a problem.

There is resistance.

Things are sluggish.

Instead of focusing outside, you look inside.

There are Rocks in the Canoe.

Some Rocks in the Canoe are employees who are not buying into the change of direction, strategy, or approach.

Some Rocks in the Canoe are rules and procedures that are working against your customers.

Some Rocks in the Canoe are having the wrong people doing the wrong jobs.

Some Rocks in the Canoe are distractions and procrastinations that move us away from our goals.

You didn’t notice it at first. Slowly those Rocks in the Canoe began to add up.

Maybe you have been spending so much time focusing on avoiding the rocks in the river, that you failed to notice the Rocks in the Canoe.

Your Canoe is heavy and weighed down.

Your Canoe is slow and sluggish.

Your Canoe is hovering dangerously close to the waterline.

Can you see the Rocks in the Canoe now?

The Rocks in the Canoe didn’t get there all at once. Some rocks started as pebbles, and seemed to grow over time. Some rocks were there when you first got into your Canoe, and you may not have noticed.

The Rocks in the Canoe need to go.

But, your Canoe may not respond well to quick motion and disruption.

Your Canoe may be a little wobbly.

It is important to keep your balance and not overturn or sink while removing the Rocks in the Canoe.

If you stand up and immediately start throwing rocks, you may tip over or crash.

Maybe we can learn from how the Rocks in the Canoe got there in the first place.

The rocks didn’t show up all at once, and our job is the methodically remove the Rocks in the Canoe.

Imagine what your Canoe could do if it wasn’t so weighed down.

P.S. Don’t be afraid of your competition picking up your rocks. If they want to put your rocks in their Canoe, let them. As you are moving quickly forward, they may be slowing down and not even realizing the cause.

Change, Loss, and Resistance

“They have a new building, a new workplace, but there is resistance, and I do not understand why they are not embracing the change.”

In other words, “hey we invested in a new building, a new space, and they should be happy!”

There was more than a building change.

A lot changed.

We talk more about the new building, the new workplace.

We learn that there were other changes.

They used to work together, now they are alone.

They used to have space to connect as a team, now there is isolation.

They used to be comfortable and a little distant from the direct issues, now they are directly in the middle of the problem.

All this change may be a better way.

All this change may be beneficial for the job.

All this change may workout in the long-term.

Now we can understand the resistance.

Now we can understand the disruption the new building caused.

Now we can understand the loss of connection with the team.

There is a great quote about change.

“Change is a form of loss. 

You need to let people grieve it.”

The resistance is grieving a loss.

The resistance is trying to adjust to the loss of team.

The resistance is getting used to working alone.

We need to understand that the change (even if that change is ultimately good) can also create a loss.

We may need to be patient while they grieve.

We may need to understand and recognize the resistance.

We may need to provide support in the process.

We will need to explain why this change is important, and acknowledge the loss.

We may need to explain it again.

We may need to provide more support than we imagined.

We may have caused other issues that we didn’t intend.

Change: It is much harder to manage than we may have guessed.

Changing Perspective

It was one of those breakfasts. Balancing trying to eat while savoring each sentence, word, and idea that comes to life when you get together with one of those inspirational ones.

Mind racing.

Pen furiously trying to keep up with the gems.

Another great idea.

That phrase.

That idea.

That thought.

An interesting story unfolds.

A new office. The old one is cluttered. The new office represents a new start. A new set of patterns. Walking in a new larger role.

But the moving day was delayed. Projects, ideas, and work was spread out in a conference room instead. On a larger table.

Instead of sitting, hunched over, almost closed off, they had to stand.

Standing allowed for a larger view, a change of perspective.

Changing perspective was a reminder to get above the piles, the issues, the projects.

Changing perspective was a reminder to take it all in and get above the weeds.

The physical change prompted the mental one.

Changing perspective serves as a good reminder for all of us.

Make a change, find a new space. Stand up, go get a coffee. Try physical changes that may prompt the changing perspective you need.

Pipelines and Pails


A friend recently told me a story about pipelines and pails. They learned about this concept in reference to creating a business that pays off in the long-term. The story compares two people one who carries two pails and gets paid for every pail. The second carries pails while spending time building something larger, something greater (a pipeline to deliver water).

If you search the concept you get a nice little cartoon about the difference.

But the concept resonated with me in a different way. I began to think about organizations and processes. I began to think about leaders, managers, and their employees. I began to see how all organizations carry buckets and how some have

Pails may be a single task, or many tasks combined together. Pails have shape and volume, and specific processes. Pails may be self-generated, or were handed down by the one who came before you. Pails are efficient when the goal is to move a small amount of something from one place to another. However, as a company grows, pails are not enough.

Pipelines are introduced to automate, streamline, and carry more something in the same amount of time. Pipelines allow a company to grow and develop and scale. But sometimes pipelines replace people or at least make them fear their presence.

Trouble may arise when you move from pails to pipelines. At first that change is tough. People got used to their pails. They painted their pails. They stenciled their name on their pails, and their kids helped decorate the little handle. They were used to pails.

The pipeline brought change.

The pipeline brought fear.

The pipeline brought loss.

The transition to pipelines from pails is not always easy. We don’t always give pail carriers time to adjust to the pipeline, or explain why they are needed.

Sometimes explaining “why” helps, and moving slowly towards that new process or procedure or method.

But pipelines do not continue without care and maintenance.

Sometimes pipelines are broken.

Broken pipelines make everyone reach back for their pails.

Sometimes people find a way to shut off the valve, and go back using pails even when they are not broken.

Sometimes that old method, process, or way returns almost without notice.

One day you are standing at the end of a broken pipeline watching people fill their pails.

Think about your organization.

Where are the pails? Where are the pipelines? Where would pipelines better serve the need? Where have pails returned? Why did the move towards the pipeline fail?

I find my mind looking for pails and how to move, scale, change, or break the status quo to ensure pipelines and their impact can be built.

To my friend: Thank You for the perspective. 

Habit Residue

Coffee Residue

We all have Habits.

Certain things we do that are a recurring pattern. Some we enjoy and are positive in our lives. Others are not great for us, and we struggle with changing them.

Habits become wired in our brains so we can focus on other more important aspects of our lives. Try to be more aware the next time you brush your teeth, take a shower, or get dressed, watch how this pattern of brushing, washing and dressing unfolds. The odds are you have a Habit that follows a pattern.

However, breaking a prior habit and re-wiring something new takes time and effort. In the first few weeks of trying something new, the old Habit tries to reestablish its dominance.

While helping someone establish a new Habit and replace and old one, they became frustrated when the old Habit returned.

“It seems to be back. I am trying.”

“You have made a lot of progress, maybe that is just the Habit Residue.”

“What are you taking about?”

“You know, what is left behind after something is gone. After I drink my coffee, there is coffee residue in the mug. The coffee is gone, I can still smell it, but the actual coffee is no longer here.”

We laughed and they were able to move forward. Somehow putting the Habit Residue in its place made it seem less powerful, less able to reassert itself back in their life.

What Habits are not working for you? What areas of your life, work, home, or relationships could use some new patterns?

Changing these Habits may not be easy, especially when the Habit Residue pretends to be the real thing. Putting the Habit Residue in its place may be a good place to start.

Inspired Vision or Dictated Standard?


(Image courtesy of my daughter who loves to snap photos while we drive.)

While working with a group of senior leaders they described some compliance issues especially with those further down within the organization. Procedures were not being followed, routine issues were on the rise, along with a rise in negative attitudes.

Many of these leaders have a behavioral bent towards adherence to and creation of rules, so I pushed in a little with some questions.

Were these particular procedures and rules important?

Yes. This is a high risk endeavor with lives on the line.

Okay, then why is there such pushback on these rules, procedures, and policies?

The culture below us seems to create this tension.

How do you communicate these procedures and rules?

Memos and operating procedures.

With a few more questions, a few additional clues were revealed. The memos, and operating procedures were then implemented by middle or front-line supervisors who didn’t always agree with or embrace the policies. 

Instead of seeing the importance of these procedures, the policies were viewed as a dictated standard instead of part of a larger inspired vision of keeping everyone safe.

Out of context, the constant emphasis on procedures can feed a negative culture. Those leaders needed to inspire a larger vision and continually explain why these small changes added to that overall vision.

As with all leaders, they needed to tell their own story and not always rely on others to explain their inspired vision.

Imagine how many times we try to get our employees, our organizations, our families, our kids, or our friends to follow some rule or procedure, yet it doesn’t resonate or create action. Instead we are left with the grumbling culture around us despite the fact that those rules would help keep everyone safe, ease some difficulty, or just make things run more smoothly.

Maybe we can all learn from these leaders.

Inspire a vision and provide the context for changes and rules. Stay on message about how these changes are important to the organization, the family or the relationship.

If not, simply dictating a standard may not be enough.