Over my career, I’ve had the privilege of creating some really cool tools. I’ve built a headcount forecasting model that was accurate to within 2% over 4 years. I’ve built financial models that have made complicated numbers seem simple. I’ve designed business intelligence applications for more uses than I can remember. I’ve designed software, created websites, implemented tools, and learned more than a few client systems.
But there is one that always comes back to me as the one I loved most. It was one that I had spent a year designing, pitching internally and then finally getting off the ground and released to clients. I brought it out from nothing and made it something. Unfortunately, a year later I no longer had an influencer role with it.
Selfishly, I can look at the trajectory and feel like I could have done much better than those that inherited it after me. It wouldn’t have been hard. Then again, hindsight is always 20/20.
Fundamentally, technology is hard. Getting an idea into implementation is hard. Getting implementation complete is even harder. Getting a client to use it is even harder. Getting traction to need to scale and then scaling is hardest of all. Building online systems is simply one of the toughest things in business.
I say this because it’s worth managers understanding what makes things successful. Some concept of “the market” is great but doesn’t do anything on its own. An “outside expert” may not grasp the vision of what is needed. Changing teams to encourage new ideas sometimes only introduces bad ideas. Sometimes the best horse to ride is the one that got you there.
Over the past few months, I’ve watched as the posts here have become more philosophical and less tactical. I spend little time talking about technology, UI, UX and day-to-day activities and more time talking about the role of management, decision making, and planning. My role is not anything like what I’ve done over the past year and it is leading me to think thoughts I haven’t focused on previously.
This shift in perspective is purely due to this change in role. It’s allowed me to discard some biases I previously held (or was forced to hold by the nature of my previous position) and adopt new ones. Biases are not, in themselves, good or bad things. They are simple truths we hold on faith with little question. For example, I used to believe that data and analytics could make any real estate organization stronger and better. I now understand that to not even regularly be the case.
If I was to go back to the role I had been in 9 months ago, I’d immediately adopt an entire solution modeled around supporting real estate organizations that have no data and limited formal processes. These are the real opportunities. They also happen to be really hard to work with.
It’s worth thinking about how your way of thinking changes based on your place in the world. Big events change you simply by those events occurring.
Probably not, because the world did not change with the release of the iPhone. There was no immediate shift in ability. There was no sudden realization that the world was different. In fact, many thought that the initial iPhone was a very imperfect device (which history has proved out). It was only years later that the world really started to noticeably shift. The iPhone was the lever that enabled the shift but the lever was pulled by others.
The world rarely changes overnight. Even when war is declared, it was usually a long time coming. America’s Declaration of Independence is celebrated every year as a day that the world changed but, again, the act was a long time in coming. It did not simply spring into existence.
In real estate, this is truer than in most other areas. Any act we make usually has months or years of planning behind it. Any sudden reaction could have been foreseen with the right information to hand. Our world is one where change is slow and hard fought.
But when change starts in slow moving fields, it comes all the stronger when the lever finally gains purchase.
As I look out at the real estate landscape, I see the move of agile working to be changing the world. Slowly the definition of what corporate real estate is is changing. Our world in 10 years will be almost unrecognizable from 10 years ago.
Responses to change occur on a spectrum between emotional and rational. Based on how much experience they have with the particular type of change they are being faced with, they may respond out of fear or out of inquiry.
During the course of any change event, people will change their response type as they learn more. Sometimes they will move from rational to emotional because they suddenly realize there may actually be an impact to their job. Other times (and hopefully usually) they move from emotional to rational as they realize there will be less impact to them than they originally expected.
Knowing where your audience is on this spectrum will allow you to better communicate with them. Never share messages targeted at managing emotion at a rational audience. They will simply see a message that implies they should be concerned and start to wonder why they aren’t. Similarly, rational messages targeting an emotional audience will be completely ignored because it isn’t addressing the concerns that people are feeling.
Communications are the key to successful project outcomes. Effective communications start from understanding not just the audience but the audience’s state of mind. When both components are brought together, you will be in a much better position to drive your change project to a successful conclusion.
I’ve been involved in a few workplace transformation projects in my career and all of them (without exception) begin with managers saying that it will never work for their team. “Sure, in principle, it could work for everyone else, but my team is different. We are all in the office every day, we’re already collaborative and changing how we do things will cost the company money.”
Whether managers intentionally don’t know the habits of their team or simply misunderstand how the work gets done, I’ve never encountered an initial meeting that went any other way. Even project sponsors and champions will fall back on the theory for their own “small” teams. It is an infallible rule of the workplace.
I’ve come to believe that most of this thinking comes down to incentives and expectations (don’t most things in life?). If a manager says that half of their team works from home 3 days a week yet there isn’t a work from home policy they could get in trouble from their bosses above them. If they delegate so much that they themselves work from home 4 days a week and don’t actually know how things happen in the office you get the same effect. Similarly, many teams may disguise their work patterns because they don’t want their boss to realize how often they work from places other than the office.
Much of it can also come down to the office safety net. Many people believe that as long as they have a desk with pictures of their family, pets, and vacations they have job security. Surely it is easier to lay off someone who isn’t assigned to a desk than someone who has a permanent seat? By keeping all the seats (regardless of impact on performance) they are protecting their people.
What they refuse to realize until after it is all said and done is that new workplaces often support teams better and create more flexibility. They don’t realize that refusing to participate comes off like they are going against corporate strategy (what real estate group drives through a workplace transformation without executive blessing?).
Speaking yesterday about noise being a healthy part of culture, made me think about the difference between resistance and inquiry. Some types of noise imply dissatisfaction or resentment (resistance) while other types are genuinely trying to be constructive or innovative (inquiry). But sometimes it can be very difficult to tell the difference.
For example: “I can’t believe how long it takes us to process these forms!” Could fall into either bucket depending on who is saying it, why they are choosing to say it, who they are saying it to and how often they’ve said it in the past. If it is something they’ve been saying twice a week for 10 years without doing anything about it, it’s most likely resistance. But if they are saying it with the desire to improve and fix the process, it becomes inquiry.
To be a good leader, you must be open to noise and able to tell the difference between when you need to walk someone off of a ledge versus push them to take their ideas to the next level and actually effect change. It’s not easy; it’s actually impossible without empathy.
If there’s one thing all of us in the CRE world deal with it is operations that don’t want to change. They don’t want to move to the new site, they don’t want to give up their offices, they don’t want a new color on the wall. Pushing for change is a core part to everything that we do.
The hardest change to drive is that with entrenched institutions. Those groups that have been around forever and are considered untouchable by the business. The groups that have power, influence and money and can block any change you try to bring them if they want to. This is where we really earn our money and how we move a company for the good.
Driving change starts and ends with communication. It’s almost like a broken record around here but it is fundamentally true. No change happens without communication. If people don’t understand why you are pushing change they will resist it. If people don’t understand the benefit to them they will resist it. If leaders can’t communicate the message with you then their teams will resist it. If you don’t keep pushing the message they will all forget it and move right back to resisting.
Can we push through solutions without everyone on board? Of course. But down that road lies productivity losses, turnover and discontentment. Change is not good when it hurts the business. In CRE our primary responsible is to be stewards of the business and push everyone in a direction the benefits the whole. We don’t sell widgets but we give the people that do a place they can comfortably work from. We don’t put the widgets into a box and ship them to customers but we do make sure the distribution center is correctly located and sized for everything that needs to happen.
It’s easy for the business to forget about the role of real estate because we try not to impact individual employees too often. But there is value in what we do and if we work with the business and the institutions that drive the enterprise forward amazing things can happen. When we don’t communicate and just hope for things to work out bad things can happen quickly.