The other day I tweeted something to that effect and I posted it on Facebook. I think my followers and friends thought I was losing it. So for posterity, here’s the extended version.

Having sat through an excellent workshop on engaging staff by Bob Chartier of the National Managers’ Community of the Canadian public service, at the end of the session, I was a bit frustrated by some of the questions and objections that came up by other participants. Someone asked a question along the lines of  “If this stuff is so wonderful, why is it so hard to implement with senior management?” To which I replied (with a bit of an edge to my voice), “mental models die hard”.

A mental model is a construct for the way we interpret reality. Sometimes called a paradigm or a “theory-in-use”, it’s a strongly held belief about the world. In order for external change to take place, our mental models(internal) must shift. Unfortunately, shifting our mental models is not something done easily in most cases. Also, the harder the change, the more entrenched the mental model.

Sometimes we are able to shift our thinking more easily than others. When this happens, it’s also easy for us to get frustrated with those  that don’t want to shift. This can be a source of tension but as Meg Wheatley and Deborah Frieze suggest in Walk Out, Walk On, we need to provide hospice as people let their mental models die.  Hospice in these cases means providing comfort and support as well as helping to prepare for the transition ahead. This is a core role for an engagement practitioner.

When mental models die, it means that people have given up something that was once important. Therefore, it is important to honour the past and recognize that our mental models once served us well.  Those who find it easy to change or who were never involved in the construction of the mental model to begin with (e.g. the new kid) can disrespect  people by simply dismissing the old ideas. Those unwilling to change are labelled as “sticks-in-the-mud”. Conversely, those who think their old ideas are not respected can resist change efforts.

As practitioners, it is important to help people honour the past through ceremonies and symbols – a success wall is a great tool to start a facilitation event. In doing this, we allow those we are helping permission to let go and begin learning.


A fresh start

Welcome to my new blog. This blog will be a place where I post information, thoughts and other ramblings about how to best engage people in the workplace and possibly in other areas of their lives.

Why another blog? My first blog, Learning to Lead, initially began as a place where I could post about my experiences as a student at Royal Roads University. My learning did not end at university and so I continued to post the occasional thought there as things struck me.

However, as I participated in a workshop on engagement the other day, it occurred to me that I need to create a space to develop my practice as an agent of engagement. That is, someone who specializes in helping organizations engage their membership at all levels. So, in a fit of entrepreneurial inspiration, I’m creating a fresh blog where I will post my ideas, thoughts, comments, opinions etc.