What Do Interventions Consist Of? — part 5

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This is an impossible question to answer.

The most successful interventions are those that are designed on the spur of the moment, when it seems that it is impossible to proceed without a formal-looking design.

This is not to say that planning has no place in designing interventions.

Far from it, well-made plans are a kind of rehearsal for a flow of events that is most likely to happen, even when it is understood that the planned flow of events is unlikely to happen.

For example, I might plan a wonderful holiday in Tobago for the September time-frame, only to run into the worst tropical depression the island has seen in ten years. The rain might completely disrupt the plans I had to lay out on the beach, in my swimsuit, covered in sunscreen. That may well have been the most likely course of action, but given the actual events, have nothing to do with what I actually end up doing.

At that moment, it would be a mistake for me to lament the lack of sunshine for more than a second.

Instead, the planning I did should free me up in the moment. Once the rain starts, I need to give up my prior plans and make new ones, based on what is happening in the moment.

Very often, business leaders get so attached to their plans that they try to execute them without regard for what is happening in front of them. Or, when faced with obstacles, they play the victim, bemoaning the fates for what has fallen upon them.

Plans are simply not made to be followed (unless they are.) In every other case, they are intended to free up our minds to respond to what is happening in the moment, and once they prove obsolete, they MUST be discarded wholeheartedly.

Interventions are best conducted when the mind is free and supple, able to respond to what is happening in the moment. They can be likened to guerrilla warfare, jiu jitsu or the kind of unstructured play that has a mood-altering effect, but no overt strategy. Guerrilla warfare is flexible, adaptable and free-flowing, as is jiu jitsu, in which one’s response is determined by one’s opponents actions.

Successful interventions require a certain kind of responsiveness, due to the ever-changing nature of the organizational situation.

For example, on a smaller level, part of a manager’s job is to intervene in the performance and behaviour of his/her subordinates.

They might spend hours planning what to say, only to realize in the moment that they must abandon their strategy in order to engage the employee wherever they might be.

This is difficult do on a person to person basis.

It is even harder to do when the intervention is undertakes as a group, and devilishly challenging to undertake when the whole organization must be taken to a different level, and the tools of intervention are needed.

What skills are needed to compose a successful intervention? How does one get trained to conduct them successfully?

The skilled practitioner operates like a trauma surgeon in some ways — skilled at very many disciplines, but not wedded to any single approach. If a piece of string will do the job, then that what is what is used. Moving quickly to capture opportunities (such as the trauma patient’s “Golden Hour”) the surgeon cares only about the outcome, and less about the means.

The practitioner of interventions may have a wide base of training, but they fade into the background when the problem presents itself and solutions are provided just as they are needed.

In fact, this is the only way that solutions can be derived.

The problem that is first recognized in the company might be solved (usually only in part) by the first intervention. However, that first intervention inevitably has some unlikely effects, only some of which are wanted.

In short, the intervention changes the state of the organization, and this new situation must be dealt with on its own terms, regardless of how fancy or detailed the plans that were made might be.

Interventions, therefore, take a strong stomach as by their very nature they throw up surprises and shocks that change how the organization is understood. Just-in-time design becomes the order of the day, not because of a lack of foresight, but due to the success of each intervention that is designed to cause a state change. The state change produces a resulting state in which a new set of designed actions is required just to stay on top of the effects that have been spurred.

This is why it is impossible to say what interventions consist of exactly, beyond trite components such as “listening” and “speaking.” This is also why they require a certain kind of courage, and willingness to fail, trusting that individual failures might only mean that the original plan was too limited to account for the scope of changes intended.

There is a single skill that the skilled practitioner cannot do well without, however. He/she must be willing at all times to accept that which is, or as Byron Katie puts it in his book of the same name: “Love What Is.”

The skill to fully accept a current situation, current facts or current reality are perhaps the most important, and the single ability that differentiates the expert from the novice.

As Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, puts it:

The opportunity that is concealed within every crisis does not manifest until all the facts of any given situation are acknowledged and fully accepted. As long as you deny them, as long as you try to escape from them or wish that things were different, the window of opportunity does not open up, and you remain trapped inside that situation, which will remain the same or deteriorate further.

Values Interventions part 4

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Now and then we are called in to work on a company’s values, and our most important advice (that most have not heard before) has little to do with the actual values themselves.

I had reason to revisit my thinking on the topic (originally done with Amie Devero) after I received the following email from Trisha Dagg (trishadagg@internode.on.net), a consultant with a firm called Blueprints. She said:

I first came across your consulting company when I read an article by Amie Devero … entitled: Corporate Values, Stimulus for the Bottom Line. She had outlined some traits or strategies that a values-based company possesses, including values that drive behavior. I am doing some research on values enactment in organizations and I am currently looking to find out about tools/methods that organizations are using to train in values and align behaviors with corporate values. There is not a lot of literature on the topic – many organizations say they live their values but it is hard to find out the “how”. I have come across a few methods such as: values specific codes of conduct, values-based interviewing and performance appraisals, and a few tools such as role-playing and card games to help align values and behaviors. I was hoping you could tell me if you have done any interventions that are specifically geared to aligning values and behaviors. What sorts of tools you used, how did you measure results?, etc.

My response to her was simple — firms that are living their values are the ones spending the most time questioning where these same values are missing, and what must be done to fill the gap.

By contrast, beware the company that spends most of its time boasting about how “value-driven” it is.

In this context, the actual values themselves do not really matter, as they offer a mere starting point. When they are chosen, or developed, the one or two days that is spent developing the list represent less than 20 hours or so of focused group effort. During this time, people’s understanding of what they want for the organization begins to align, and they begin to move towards a common language that expresses this end state.

However, this is just a warm-up activity.

The practice that the company must undertake involves a continual examination, deliberation and closing of the gap. This practice is what mastering values is all about.

As the company practices, it gets better in a few critical areas:

  1. The employees deepen their joint understanding of what they really want, and learn better ways to articulate it clearly. “Integrity” for example, a very popular value appearing on many corporations’ values list, might very well mean something very different for any pair of employees.
  2. The company becomes more skillful at noticing the gap. It is likely that specific gaps that exist will be noticed by only a handful at first. Over time, they will hopefully be able to enlist others in seeing what they see, but the process in moving from individual inspiration to group understanding is a perilous and risky one.

    Arguably, there were employees at Enron who saw trouble brewing and were willing to say so, but the company’s culture would not allow their protests to develop along the pathway from realization to action.

  3. The company develops multiple ways of closing the gap. When a critical mass of people noticing that the gap exists develops, then taking action to close the gap is the natural outcome.


These three capabilities are what we call “living the values.” It involves a continual shedding of the idea that “we have arrived” and encourages the natural evolution of values, which are merely an intangible set of agreed upon ideals. Given that values are merely an element of language, then only further talking and listening (i.e. conversation) will produce the shedding and evolving that is required to be “living” the values.

This takes courage.

For some, it means taking the risk of being fired, as they flirt with that invisible line beyond which “everyone” agrees no-one should go. Usually, it is just easier to go with the flow, give up any heartfelt belief in the values, and retreat into resignation and cynicism. That is the easy path.

The road less travelled, however, is the one that every company needs its employees to be willing to take. Companies need employees who are willing to believe, and are open to taking risks on behalf of their beliefs.

If enough of these employees existed at either Enron or Arthur Anderson, we would instead be talking about the corporate leadership that they provide in living their values. However, it would not be because their magic list of values is superior to anyone else’s.

Instead, we would know about the courage that their people have to take risks for what they believe in, and the great job each company does in encouraging this vital character trait.

Values interventions, therefore, have more to do with encouraging employees to believe, be courageous and take risks. That is the critical missing element and the one that interventions need to focus on more than anything else. There is no single prescription for how to build this element as each company is different, and the activities to be undertaken range from individual coaching to large group sessions.

The most successful interventions are self-generating as they produce individuals who continually push the company’s limits on what can be questioned, including the question of whether or not there should even be a “magic list of values.” At that point, the actual values do not even matter. It is the way of living that counts.

What Exactly is An Intervention? part 3

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Strangely enough, “intervention” was not a word I would ever use in my work, until a client repeatedly told me that he wanted me to perform what he called “an intervention.”

Now, here in the Caribbean we do not have the psychological language in our daily conversations that exists in North America. In the therapeutic world, an intervention is something performed by the friends of someone who is an addict of some kind, in the hopes that their combined efforts can help to cause an immediate, positive choice that saves the person’s life from destruction. They might hire an expert to help them to perform the intervention, and collectively say things to the addict that they had either never said before, or said together, or said without demanding an immediate choice.

While that is a bit dramatic for the my company’s purposes, it is not that far off in terms of the general idea. High stakes interventions are designed to save companies from the path they are currently on, and the results they are likely to manifest if nothing changes.

The following definition of an intervention from wikipedia seems quite appropriate:

In Organizational Development (OD), another sense of the word intervention is the activity of the OD consultant within the client’s context. In a formal OD process, an OD consultant gains entry to the organization, establishes a contract with the client, diagnoses the current functioning of the system, and recommends specific actions to improve things.

A few years ago, just before developing my strategic plan it occurred to me that the work I enjoyed the most, and wanted my company to focus on were the interventions that had the highest stakes. In other words, they had the potential for the highest impact, but also were the ones that were risky due to how much was at stake. Usually, those close to the problem had tried everything they knew to try.

It definitely was not cookie-cutter kind of work.

As a child I remember reading an article by someone called Red Adair, who was not your ordinary fireman. Instead, he focused exclusively on the toughest kinds of fires there were to put out — those fuelled by the oil from wells or rigs. They required specialized training, tools and methods that Red himself pioneered and invented, before making them available to the world.

Every kid grows up wanting to be a fireman!

While I have never put out a physical fire, I enjoy the challenge of solving really, really tough people problems that impact a company’s bottom line. It brings out some of the same qualities that Red Adair must use to put out these difficult blazes.

Anyone who is interested in high-stake interventions must have a willingness to take risks, in order to make a tangible difference. Learning how to be effective in the face of a risky environment requires certain personal qualities, and organizational qualities and a certain level ofu preparation.

One kind of preparation is to develop the kind of muscles required for self-reflection, because as I noted in part 2, interventions often start (and end) with a discovery of the part that we play in the genesis or continuation of the problem.

So, today, thanks to this client of mine, I now provide interventions, and through this blog help others to do the same.

The Design of High Stake Interventions – part 2

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There is a courage that interventions require that most would not recognize, as it has nothing to do with the inner strength required to take public actions.

Instead, the harder work to do when considering an intervention is internal — some might say it is psychological, or even spiritual.

As an intervenor in something that is not working, there is a place where you must get to where you own the fact that it (or something similar to it) is not working because of you. Whereas this may sound like self-blame, it actually has nothing to do with fault. It can be seen as strictly a matter of efficiency.

The best way to approach a problem, is to discover where, in fact, we are contributing to its continuance and where we perhaps helped to start it in the first place. The reason that this is the best way is not because the intervenor is less moral or more wicked than the rest of those involved.

Instead, it is just quicker and more efficient to work with oneself first, and to seek solutions within oneself, than it is to try to change people, systems or structures outside.

The courage that very few humans have, however, is to do this often enough and long enough to actually get the answers they need.

A senior team I worked with once asked itself — why aren’t our people more motivated? As they were about to spend money on a motivational program, it occurred to a team member (with our help) that maybe it had something to do with them not being motivated themselves.

Now, this may not appear as dramatic as I am making it out to be, but part of what it is to be human, is that we are able to hide considerable chunks of the truth from ourselves. Engaging in the design of High Stakes Interventions starts with a bit of Occam’s Razor — if there is a problem, start with an inquiry into what I have to do with its creation or continuance.

Even as an outsider to a company, I am actually able to ask myself when I am the intervenor, where I also am contributing to the problem, or have done so in the past. For example, on a recent project to develop customer service standards, I myself hate the idea of following standards.

It made me think harder about why. Well, I find standards constricting, especially when they have something to do with what someone else is using force to try to get me to do.

However, when I think about the end-experience I am trying to create in the world of the customer, and standards are seen as predetermined shortcuts, I become excited. It lead me to think about how to design my newsletter in an entirely different way — starting with the experience I wanted my readers to have.

Then, creating standards for myself was easy — even the kinds that no-one would ever notice. It gave me an insight into how to talk about standards with Caribbean employees, who are particularly resistant to even the appearance of force.

The best intervenors I have worked with are the ones who are the most disciplined in this method of self-inquiry, and are also the most courageous.

The Design of High Stake Interventions – part 1

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(NB if you are coming here from FirstCuts Issue 4: Transforming an Airline, you may add comments to the article here.)

While our firm’s tag-line is High-Stake Interventions, that line is much more than a marketing gimmick.

It is used by us in several important ways, some of which I am going to expand on in this series of posts on interventions. They might not all be new ideas, but hopefully I will be able to put them together in some kind of summary that will assist anyone who comes to the Framework site in designing their own interventions.

In these blogs, I will just be “following the energy” to see what to focus on next, rather than attempting to do a formal outline, or even a mind-map, although those will have to come later if the summary is to make sense. In the meantime, I plan to just put down the ideas as they come to me.

We will see what happens, won’t we?

Striking it Rich — a Curse

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What if all of a sudden Jamaica were to strike it rich, like we discovered a source oil, natural gas, gold or diamonds?

Evidence suggests that that could be one of the worse things we could wish upon ourselves.

Trinidad is currently undergoing an oil and natural gas boom that is fast becoming a source of concern to some of its citizens.

Why so?

Recent past history tells us that developing countries that “discover” a single source of a new mineral commodity end up wrecking their economies. Oil and natural gas are the most recent instigators, but gold, diamonds and other precious ores have also played their part.

How does this happen?

Well, believe it or not, it could be compared to hitting the lottery, which often involves

  • changing locks, phone numbers, addresses, names, etc. to gain some relief from the public
  • being informed of “new” cousins that claim kinship, and a cut of the winnings
  • family members and friends who refuse to talk to you after you refuse them their “share”
  • complicated new choices on taxes and investments
  • hiring a lawyer and accountant (at least)
  • new “friendships” based on what you have, rather than who you are
  • saying “No way” more often than “Yes” to worthy causes and needy people
  • being included by thieves and other dirty, rotten scoundrels in their short to medium term career planning

I have never won anything in my life, but I once met someone whose lottery-winning uncle refused to fund her continuing education once she decided to switch from Pre-Med… causing her to drop out in mid-semester.

The problem with a windfall is that it distorts things. Undeserved and unearned resources are placed in our hands. We have an instant material power that is unmatched with equal wisdom. Our capacity to live life productively remains unchanged, but Lady Luck has granted us the fruits of a windfall and fate demands that we deal with them nonetheless.

The new NBC series “Windfall” offers an interesting and dramatic account of one group of lottery winners.

Trinidad’s current windfall is actually its second, and the last one was bad enough and recent enough to have those with long memories nervous. Some of the effects of $75+ per barrel oil are already plain to see.

  • Rising GDP and government revenue have served to stimulate an appetite for instant wealth, leading to a startling increase in kidnappings. The disparity in income between the lucky and the unlucky expands dramatically and quickly.
  • Government’s desire to increase employment led to the creation of artificial employment in the form of the CEPEP program and others. In short, they provide a decent wage for a disproportionate (in other words, small) amount of value. The end result is an indecent one, however – first wage inflation, and now a labour shortage.
  • Increasing traffic, but few new roads being built. Several spots have become nightmares, such as the roads into Maraval and Diego Martin.
  • Port of Spain’s real estate prices have risen dramatically fuelled by the demand by expats related to the oil industry
  • While the oil and natural gas sectors are booming, the non-oil related economy is stagnant. In short this means that the only thing separating Trinidad from other developing countries is the price of oil on the world market – a commodity price over which the country has no influence

Could we expect the same things in Jamaica if we were to make the same kind of discovery?

  • Would our crime increase in the same way, as people’s expectations collectively rise more quickly than incomes?
  • Would our real estate prices also explode?
  • Would government policies also encourage under-employment, and a labour shortage?
  • Would the economy come to rely on unsustainable factors such as the price of oil on the world market?

Countries such as Nigeria and Venezuela have clearly suffered historically from their windfalls, leading some to say that the discovery of oil is the worst blessing that a country could pray for.

The remedy seems to lie in a commitment by government to the long term development of its people, increasing education and its sister, productive capacity, faster than expectations of instant wealth.

Would our politicians resist the temptation to forego easy spending to gain votes? Finance Minister’s Omar Davis’ recent admission that he authorized election spending to gain votes legitimized common, if unspoken knowledge. His words gave us no confidence that he and others would act any differently.

The Launch of a New ezine

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Finally, after what feels like months of research, I am ready to launch my new eZine, entitled FirstCuts.

It is intended to be a provocative source of ideas and new thinking for Caribbean companies, based on work and research of Framework associates. You can use the link at the end of the page to sign up, or just send an email to FirstCuts@aweber.com from the email address that you wish to add to the list of recipients.

If plain text is not to your liking, you can always access the html version of the newsletter at the following link: http://tinyurl.com/pw7fa

At some point I may also post a copy of the newsletter here at the site, but there appear tto be some IE to Firefox kinks to work out, and as a Firefox user I do not want to look at a garbled version of my own newsletter!

Enter the form below to subscribe to the eZine.








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CaribHRNews; The Source for Caribbean HR News

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Framework Consulting is pleased to announce the launch of CaribHRNews, a Squidoo-hosted aggregator of the most recent internet-based news related to the Human Resources profession.

On the company website, the page may be accessed from the link on each page titled CaribHRForum.

President Francis Wade noted “We wanted a single place to find all the information related to the Human Resource industry and after months of searching for viable solution we found one that would not require intensive manual effort.”

The price to use the service is free to professionals, and the cost of its maintenance is being underwritten by Framework Consulting.

Shortage of Labour

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The Trinidad Guardian is reporting a phenomena that I mentioned earlier this year that to us here in Jamaica is astounding: Trinidad is nearing full employment.

The evidence being presented is that outlets like KFC are having a hard time finding sufficient labour to staff their restaurants, and at least one owner of another fast-food outlet echoed the same sentiment to me recently.

This will be a real test for CSME, which is specifically intended to correct imbalances like these.

Guyana and Jamaica have tremendous unemployment problems, yet Trinidad only competing with Barbados in the minds of people across the region, for the title of the most difficult place to which one can legally migrate. Just the other day, an acquaintance of mine had to return to Jamaica after encountering work permit difficulties after several months of living in Trinidad.

Unfortunately, the CSME legislation was only very recently expanded to include nurses and teachers. It looks like it will be some time before casual workers are included, if ever. So fast-food outlets in Trinidad will continue to have the problems they are having, and it is likely to only get much worse before it gets any better.