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The Soft Stuff is the Hard Stuff

In 1999 I was Communications Manager for a large
scale, global initiative at the World Bank. 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
daily 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 was the kind of
speaker who got better as the day grew 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 much to understanding how people
change themselves and their business processes. Rather than top-down,
this approach is inside-out.
As people generate new insights and understanding, their behavior
changes. I would say 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. Instead you
must convene them. The higher the risk 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 chance 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 hard… and it all
depends on the soft stuff: creating quality human interaction.