Coaching the Caterpillar to Fly

A program for development

The opportunities for improvement already exist within the organization and its people -- it is partly a matter of transformation and the shifting perspective. This session is focused on engaging and enlightening and on sharing ideas for personal and organizational improvement.

 

This is written as a handout for the Excellence in Mississippi Conference and was designed to be a readable guide and reference. We trust these efforts will benefit you and your people.

© Performance Management Company, 2000

Scott J. Simmerman, Ph.D., is the Managing Partner of PMC and is the creator of the Square Wheels illustration series and The Search for the Last Dutchman's Gold Mine, a fast-paced team building simulation based on collaboration and quality.

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Most people in organizations feel that they tend to work like this:

© Performance Management Company, 1993

 

In the space around the illustration provided on the worksheet, you were asked to identify and note as many of the factors and key points as you could. Responses generally included what might be represented by:

Consider your own perceptions about how things work and the beliefs you may add based on your projections onto the illustration. Consider the similarities and differences in thinking among those of you as your team worked on this assigned task. It is our goal to use this illustration and included worksheet to generate a level of active involvement that will get your teams focused on their performance improvement opportunities.

Key debriefing points included:

The person in front - represents leadership, top and middle management or others focused forward (and seldom backward). All leaders get insulated by their rope to the bumps and thumps of many realities of the journey forward. They work hard to pull the organization ahead. Intentions are positive.

The people in back - represent those who cannot see far ahead and feel every bump in the road. They push but have to trust the leadership to steer the course of the journey. They have a limited view of where they are headed, but work hard to do what is expected of them. Intentions are positive. Teamwork and motivation are important.

The body of the wagon - The body itself is well made and sturdy, much like the basic core of any organization or the basic layout of any facility: It will do the job for which it was designed. Its nature makes changing direction quite difficult, but it works like it always has.

The Square Wheels - These represent the traditions of the organization, the way things have always been done, the old ways, the systems and procedures to respond to quality and service initiatives or other issues of relevance to the group. In some organizations, they might represent inter-departmental conflicts and the common experience of an organization that does not move smoothly forward.

The Round Wheels - These represent new ideas for innovation or improvement, generally coming from within the organization itself.

 

Overall, the visions are never effectively communicated to everyone in the work group. Therefore, continued supervision and support is needed to keep moving forward and people must trust the leadership to lead the way. After pushing for a long time, however, people in the back may lose interest in where the organization is going or needs to go and can become resigned to the fact that the Square Wheels are a way of life. The organization clunks along, and everyone knows it.

What key points should be made?

People front and back will work hard at moving forward, although not all can be expected to put forth all of their effort. Leadership can appear out of touch with the wagon and its people and may not see or hear any of the innovative ideas for change. Systems and procedures can be less than optimal.

The wagon is moving forward yet no one is taking the time to step back and look for improvements in the way things are done. Getting people to stop their wagon for a few hours and discuss the procedures would probably lead to improvements and innovation. Leadership must share vision about the journey.

Quality and productivity, as perceived by workers, managers and customers, relate to the smoothness and speed of the journey forward. Customers may see only confusion and inefficiencies, since they do not understand how systems and procedures operate in most organizations. If your customers are sitting on top of your wagon, their ride may not satisfy them -- and your competition might offer them a somewhat better vehicle for their journey.

 

Round Wheels are also a paradox, since they already exist within the wagons and yet not all are usable. But the team has to actually stop progress to discover and mount them. Implementing improvements also causes shifts in resource utilization and systems and processes; as the wagon moves forward faster, it causes other pressures in other operations. Change and improvement are never simple - it takes concerted effort from all levels of management in all areas.

But many people tell us that the reality of change looks much more like the illustration below than what we viewed in the previous illustration:

In other words,

Things are this way because they got this way
and unless things change, they will remain the same.

 

Recognize that "yellow gooey sticky mess" is a metaphor for the systems, processes, bureaucracy, politics and general goop that seem to get most organizations bogged down. The wagon sinks up to its axles in the mud, with an added reality of alligators and

 

"...it may not stay a yellow gooey sticky mess - it may be cement."

The reality is that most organizations tend to be bogged down and not really making much progress. And the people within the organization naturally avoid the "yellow, sticky, gooey mess" of personal development and change. They avoid the discomfort of having to deal with it.

 

"We could be standing at the top of the world
instead of sinking further down in the mud."

Meatloaf, from "All revved up and no place to go."

 

We often get bogged down in the process of trying to make things happen. And maybe it's mud. But maybe it’s grinding paste or even cement. Either way, we must look for ways to get out of the ditch and up on the road to progress.

 

These ideas form the basis of our approach to coaching for improved performance.

In our experiences and in the shared experiences of others, most people perform without regard to possibilities for improvement. They are not aware of better ways to do the job, which often already exist within the organization. One of the ways to coach for improved performance is to generate team ideas about possibilities for improvement.

Once the metaphors and results are established, you can then make the transition to the individual and their personal performance.

The shift is an easy once one get the concepts anchored and supported within the group / peer environment and then make the shift to an individual discussion, focused on the things that are not working well and leaning toward the things that could be done differently. You generate awareness and objectivity, putting the discussion into a powerful, positive and future-oriented focus on change.

The comedian Steven Wright got it pretty correct when it comes to leadership, large organizations and general expectations when he said,

"I have a microwave fireplace at home. You can lay down
in front of the fire all night in eight minutes."

Sometimes all of us expect microwave fireplace results in personal and business relationships. But improvement isn't fast; it depends on people "buying in" to new possibilities, needs a bit of coordination and occurs with some amount of trial and error. It is about unrealized organizational and individual potential and some inevitable realities and perceptions.

 

The situation reminds me of a story:

Two caterpillars are conversing
and a beautiful butterfly floats by.

One caterpillar turns and says to the other,
"You'll never get me up on one of those (butterfly) things."

 

In asking people to discuss the joke, we've collected more than 40 different responses and answers. These include:

Risk avoidance is normal. Change is often resisted.

Change is inevitable. Caterpillars don't like wings.

Caterpillars must hate flying. Caterpillars see no need to fly.

Change is not always a conscious decision. Change will occur.

We go through stages of development. You're one stage closer to death.

Butterflies are a stage beyond caterpillars.

You have to stop being a caterpillar in order to become a butterfly.

We can choose to be active participants in change. Or not, maybe.

It's easier for butterflies to develop perspective than caterpillars.

We can attempt to resist and suffer the stress and difficulties.

Caterpillars focus only on eating and survival.

Butterflies get blown around by the wind and caterpillars drag their feet!

Metamorphosis is an uncontrollable process with an unclear result.

Metamorphosis is a dark, damp, confined place, so I'm scared!

and my personal favorite:

I'll NEVER be a butterfly; My mother was a moth.

 (If you love caterpillars and butterflies, make your own butterfly garden in your backyard.
By filling your garden with the right flowers and plants, you will attract beautiful butterflies from all around.)

Thus, when people talk about "the joke", a most interesting thing always happens: They discover that they share different perspectives and a diversity of ideas but that once they get The Answer, they generally self-limit any consideration of other possibilities. This is a most interesting outcome when it links to some key learning points on leading change and dis-un-empowering people, including:

You cannot become a butterfly by
remaining a caterpillar.
It is all about discovering the inevitability of change
and clarifying a vision of the future.

Let's continue to illustrate with a few facts and a true story. Since I started telling this joke, I've learned a lot about Lepidoptera:

Like some people we know, certain caterpillars like the Crystalline Limacodid, have bristles that dispense toxic chemicals. Getting too close to them can be a very painful experience! And many moths, butterflies and caterpillars use camouflage as a way of protecting themselves in an attempt to hide from predators -- we see the same thing in organizations!

The Monarch Butterfly of North America migrates great distances (2,000+ miles) to areas slightly West of Mexico City, where they gather in the billions to reproduce. They then migrate back as far as the Canadian Border. They often feed on milkweed, which also serves to protect them -- birds find their taste aversive and will avoid eating them.

The difference between a moth and a butterfly lies mostly in the nature of their antennae. Many moths have tremendously sensitive antenna that can sense minute quantities of the sexual pheromone, in the parts per billion quantities. There are 140,000+ species of moths.

Some caterpillars eat as much as 27,000 times their body weight to support their lives as flying insects. The very large adult Luna Moths lack a mouth and actually live only on the energy stored during their larval stage -- their sole focus of their adult lives is reproduction.

Note: many more factoids are available at www.SquareWheels.com

 

Thus, we've all now learned more about caterpillars and butterflies. Can we apply it to personal and organizational improvement?

A while back, in a telephone conversation, Ted Forbes at The Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia asked me,
"Do you know about caterpillars and butterflies."

Being somewhat an expert on the subject, I of course said,

"No."

(Remember the paradox of knowingThe Answer.)

 

Ted then shared a great punch line and a wonderful transition to issues of personal and organizational change. He then said:

"In the change from being a caterpillar to being a butterfly,
you're nothing more than a yellow, gooey sticky mess."

We need to deal with the gooey stuff most people find uncomfortable. It makes change and improvement more difficult, especially when the change might be forced on one person by another through a "coaching" or "performance appraisal" work improvement process.

People have to metamorphose in order to change and that will involve going through the discomfort of not being a caterpillar while you are in the process of becoming a butterfly. The transformation process is thus somewhat uncomfortable. The key is sensitivity and perception of the realities of the process and an understanding of the key factors in change and personal growth.

Our natural senses give us perceptual sensitivity that is incredible. Biologically, if your physical senses are working normally, you can:

Thus, we have the potential acuity (sensitivity) to be very perceptive. But we block our perceptions; we often limit ideas for improvement because we already know The Answer? And by limiting discussion, we limit possibilities and innovations as well as ownership and self-esteem. We cannot sometimes see what is obvious. And that prevents us from improving.

In the model of change that I believe most often applies to individuals and groups, there are four main factors that need to be addressed. Improvements in any of these factors will increase the likelihood of change. Increases in more of these will make change more likely.

The four factors include:

The application of the above is pretty straightforward when viewed in context of what we've presented herein.

We create discomfort by generating a perception that there may be Square Wheels and round ones. By discussing things that can be improved, we make people less comfortable with the way things are. More discomfort equates to a greater likelihod for change.

Having (or creating) a more attractive vision of the future is engaging. It helps to motivate change and improvement.

Creating a sense of positive around change efforts is important. If people have recently failed, they are often more hesitant to trying again. Conversely, if they have been successful in the recent past, they are more likely to make efforts to try new things.

Lastly, creating a positive environment in the workplace through the use of peer support and teamwork helps individuals in their efforts to do things differently.

All in all, a coaching program recognizes the individual resistance to change, engages the group in a process to identify potential improvements, gets the team to do things and feel more successful as a group (and as individuals) and then set up more positive workgroup pressure to continue to improve things in the workplace.

The thrust of these efforts is to get people actively involved in the change and improvement efforts.

I believe that most organizations are thumping along on Square Wheels with Round Wheels already in the wagon. We plod along because we have always done it that way and they do work. "After all, how would we know that we were making progress if it didn't go 'Thump, Thump'?"

And to illustrate the power of diversity of thinking, in our use of this image over the past few years, recognize that we've captured almost 300 different ideas about this one illustration!

Some additional key points include:

As change agents, we must involve and engage people in gaining perspective and objectivity about behavior and the reality of how the organization works in order to make improvements occur. We need to ask questions, challenge "whee-ality" and search for a never-ending supply of round wheels to implement.

It would seem that many wagon pushers feel the problems at hand but few get the satisfaction from having things improved. There is often little incentive for taking risks and making improvements and it is not obvious that management is listening or willing to implement change.

Yet if leaders would take the time to discuss the possibilities for improvement, they could engage the energies of the people. It's not rocket science; it's about employee involvement focused on improving the task at hand. It is also clear that the potential for improvement already exists, that there is a butterfly within each of us.

But many people at all organizational levels don't see their potential or even the need for change. And managers don't often see their role as one of developing people. Yet the statistics consistently show that many feel that improvements could be made if managers would be more open and asking about the possibilities for improvement, Square Wheels.

The paradox is that with managers solving the problems and generating the solutions, they will be demonstrating that they absolutely KNOW "The Answer" and thus undoubtedly missing some new ideas and the opportunity to engage people in the motivating aspects of the situation.

By paying attention to the Square Wheels and then paying attention to the perceived possibilities for improvement, we create a bit of cognitive dissonance or discomfort caused by a gap between the perception of how things are and how they could be. By becoming less comfortable with current processes and more aware of what might be done, we are more likely to initiate change and improvements.

There are no bad people in companies; there are just good people doing clunky things in poor systems. When you put people into a poorly functioning process, there is little chance that they will perform well. We must address the operational and motivational systems to engage and motivate people. And the people who have hands on experience only need perspective and support.

A problem with productivity improvement and dis-un-empowerment is that many people don't "buy in to the program." Issues of trust and past history come into play. Many don't have a positive experience with attempts to make changes and improvements.

See our article on Dis-Un-Empowerment and Managing Roadblocks here. Click "back" to return

Let's illustrate with a test:

Please take 2 minutes and consider identifying four or five of the key points in the following illustration. You might also try it with someone else.

 

Capture at least 5 thoughts about the illustration:

*

*

*

*

*

*

 

The name of this illustration is "Trial and Error." And it is about how change and improvements occur. And if you are reading this without considering your reactions to the illustration, stop and please consider.

If you are like most people in our workshops, you will generate a number of ideas about what is wrong and what they should have done and few about what they have done or are doing positively. The actual ratio of negative to positive is greater than 16 : 1 and we've tested this worldwide in all sorts of organizational cultures with similar results.

Too often, we are quick to put a "Blame Frame" on things and presume, with our leadership and expertise, that we would not have made such simple errors and omissions. Horses will push carts when trained and motivated and there are always many potential ideas for improvement that can be implemented or modified.

 

As Max DePree said:

"We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are."

 

Continuous continuous improvement is an ongoing process involving people and systems and behavior. It often occurs through trial and error.

The typical coaching process might focus on these negative attributions and generate some defensiveness on the part of the other person.

A better coaching process would involve allowing that person or team to step back from the wagon and discover the alternatives themselves. Instead of running over the hill, they are more likely to re-engage and make other changes to the systems and processes and to their behaviors.

One of the real keys is PERSPECTIVE. You get this only from "stepping back." An other key is OBJECTIVITY. You get this from not being too emotionally involved in what is happening.

The coach helps create an environment of Perspective and Objectivity as it relates to how things are done and what might be done differently. The coach is not in a Yell and Tell mode as much as they are facilitators of the learning process itself.

A team approach generates the pooled, collective knowledge needed to solve real problems as well as provide the synergy and consensus as to where to generate results. Peer pressure can be focused on positive change and improvements if we can engage the team in a bit of reflection. Leadership provides the power and support to the implementation - but leaders must follow through and do something to produce any improvements and long-term results.

Visions are important and must be shared:

  

And pullers wonder why people at the back of the wagon aren't motivated. Go figure!

 

Since the view from the front is obviously different than the view from the back, isn't it obvious that we must help share the vision and goals in our communications? Recognize that there are lots of solutions.

Most involve communications, especially those about missions and visions like this View from the Back of the Front:

We need to share the vision of where we are headed and share a more realistic sense of missions and values about the journey itself. People also need goals and expectations to meet.

If people aren't engaged together, they won't be too motivated to work together for a common purpose. Remember, the perception of many is that the people at the front are deaf and the people at the back are blind, at least to those opportunities "at hand."

Quality is a people thing. A cross-functional team with a few skills, a mission and vision, and a bit of encouragement and support from management can generate the objectivity, perspective, collective knowledge and make real improvements in systems and processes, the root solution to the quality and productivity issue.

And by getting people involved in the solution, they become equity owners of the process and we do things with them rather than to them.

Intrinsic motivation, then, looks like this:

Most people already have the round wheels in their grasp but, because of negative self-talk, constructive criticism, past performance evaluations focused on the negative and other typical work dynamics, we may not recognize them. Getting a test back in school, for example, was an experience of seeing all of our wrong answers highlighted and marked in red. This focus on the negative does not work to bring out the positive.

We can't really focus on helping ourselves and others achieve their highest potential if we treat people in ways that diminish self-esteem and limit opportunities. The only way to achieve high performance is to engage the best energies of the people within the organization. And they already exist - the challenge is to unleash them from within. So, if we want people to fly, we've got to look at what influences their initiative and performance and get them involved and engaged.

We need to try new things and experiment with the systems and processes. By hooking things up in a new way, we can often generate that creative spark and innovation that will make a long-term fundamental improvement. We need to help people transition from caterpillars to butterflies and change from Spectator Sheep into Tigers.

 Even caterpillars can fly if they would just lighten up!

So, I challenge each of you to look for ideas for improvement and make a difference in our wagons. Your Round Wheels already exist.

 

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