Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Tools versus Attitudes

In a coaching session with one of my trainees, I was reflecting on the old discussion of tools versus attitudes in consulting. Regularly, I get this very strange experience. Books like Peggy Holman's Change Handbook or websites like the Change Management Toolbook are very successful and everybody likes them. But most consultants would say: it is not the tools that count but the attitude with which you approach a change process. This is true. Think of "Only fools worship their tools" - or "If the only thing you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail (Abraham Maslov)". However, I have not met a single consultant or facilitator who said of herself: "I just focus on the tool, and I don't care of the process". Even among the specialists who just use one method, let's say Open Space Technology or Six Sigma etc., I have never met one who said that "her tool" was the solution of all problems of the world.

Yes, attitude, client focus, flexibility, openness, etc. are essentials for a change facilitator. It is just difficult to teach them, at least when you just see your trainees for a couple days in their long life. Probably a long apprenticeship and a good mentor help are more appropriate. But there is hope. I believe that clients have a good sense for whether the consultants they meet want to sell their tools or whether they are genuinely interested in the client's needs. So, probably there is a good selection towards the solution and process oriented personalities of us and I believe that those consultants are more succesful that really help the client to getting things done. On the other side, we all need and love tools - that is why we spend a lot of money in training courses to learn new methods ourselves. Sometimes, when I have to fix a screw and I just have knife - I am dying for a screw driver.

I believe there is no either/or. A Change Facilitator needs the write attitude, alot of soft skills, personality, and sometimes technical knowledge of the sector, depending on the type of assignment. She needs tools, too.

What do you think of the tool vs. attitude discussion? Please leave yor comment by clicking on the "comment" function below, and I will publish them in one of the next blogs.


Jonathan Wilson said...

I agree with you. I like your use of the word apprenticeship too. An apprentice works for and with a master. The master helps them to develop both their attitude and their skills. There are always several skill for a practictioner to learn and to practice. The first is to understand and then to choose which is the most suitable tool. Then the good practitioner uses their skill with the tool. Susch skill comes from practice so that the techiincal skills become so habiutated that they are almost automatic leaving the practitioner free to focus their entire attntion on the client and the context.
As Collins and Porras noted in Good to Great, one of teh things that differentiates the best from the next is the ability "to use the power of the 'and'intsead of the tyranny of the 'or'". The power of attitude and skill...

Best regards
Jonathan Wilson

Jeffrey Paul Anderson said...

Maybe this is a matter of semantics, but is attitude a tool? I may not know what "attitude" means exactly. I think part of the attitude required for success is the ability to listen and really get into the client's perspective, without a predisposition for a solution or a tool.

One might need tools to facilitate the discussion about the change, otherwise your attitude is just in your head. I just blogged about a simple tool called DICE, which if nothing else, allows a change manager to inventory and manage a portfolio of change initiatives.

My guess is that once you have a lot of change going on, the tools would become more important than any one person's attitude. You need the tools to map, understand and communicate the collective attitude, which is a more important factor.

-Jeffrey Paul Anderson

maya said...

Nice blog. Enjoyed reading it!
It is not possible without the "Right attitude" to go about with Change to a routine. Also it is not sufficient with only the Change Agent having the attitude. It should vest with all the stakeholders involved in the process.
Is attitude enough? NO... TOOLS facilitate change. They form the framework/ guidelines to carry out the process and also educate the stakeholders about the need for change.
According to me it is never "Tools Vs Attitudes" but "Tools with Attitude"


Joitske Hulsebosch said...

Hi, though a bit late.. I hope to blog this too. I agree with the need for a balance in focus on toolkits versus attitude. In the development scene, I've seen a lot of toolkits and sometimes miss the balance. It's like the toolkits give people the idea they've promoted a certain practice. Etienne Wenger somewhere wrote that toolkits should 'fit the practice like a glove' for them to be useful. So a toolkit without the practice is nothing!

Joitske Hulsebosch said...

Here we go!

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