Is certification the only way forward? Nothing gets people more riled up than a good ‘ol certification debate! I posted my frustration with this on twitter and was met with some snarky comments from friends about the “OMG, someone is wrong on the internet!!!” problem.

Well, they ARE wrong, and the 47 comments on the thread that reinforced my own biases was all the proof I needed. Some of them included:

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There. Now that I’ve proven how smart I am, let’s continue.

By the way, if you don’t know me, you don’t know that I enjoy poking the bear from time to time, and there’s no way I take myself this seriously!

Certifications don’t tell you how to navigate the hairball that is change. Certifications don’t tell you how to approach a nasty social, and political problem at work. Certifications don’t tell you how to find the early adopters, or how to create urgency…certifications only tell you that you need to do those things.

So what is better than change certification?

  1. Visualize Your Change Work

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I make everything I’m working on transparent everywhere I work. In fact, this morning, someone who walked up to my desk a couple of weeks ago asked me what those stickies were. I told her it was all the things I’m working on.

Today she came back and showed another person. Then they asked about getting help with Agile on one of the projects they’re working on.

Another trick is to be seen at work reading a book that spouts the ideas you want people to consider at work. Either that, or leave the book on your desk where someone will notice it and ask you about it.

These two simple things help you find the early adopters…or change champions…or whatever you want to call them. I call them Movers. Those that will take action and inspire people during the emergent phase of change.

Breaking! As I was leaving Lean Coffee this morning, I walk by our big visible wall and saw our VP talking about the work on the wall with someone. Visualizing work works. Most importantly, our big visible wall is in a BIG VISIBLE AREA, so people see him talking with people in front of it.

2. Go Where Communication Happens

This is the first client I’ve ever worked at that actually has a useful internal social media site. So I post weekly on it, and connect with the people who like, share or comment on my content. Those are the early adopters. Those are the people who will have small successes that I will shout from the rooftops.

One of them already did. I insisted we visualize our work as the first step, and he seemed a little annoyed at first. Then he told me he wasn’t getting any value out of it so he, and his team, got in a room and figured out something better. As he explained it to me, he said “wait, I just solved my own problem didn’t I?

This organization does lots of internal webinars. I look for relevant topics, attend them, and connect with people who are trying Agile so I can get a sense of where they’re stuck, or where they’re having success.

I’ve tried Lean Coffee 3 times since I’ve been here. The first time, one person showed. The second time, no one did (but it was because I was in the wrong room…that tends to happen when there are two rooms called “The oasis” on the same floor). Today is #3, we’re 8 minutes in and no one is here yet. That means this type of thing is so unusual people probably don’t know what it is.

I even tried new signs to lead people directly to the room…nothing. Time for a new experiment I guess.

Where do people eat lunch? Where do they go for coffee? Those are the places you’re going to overhear what people really think of the change.

3. Find out Who’s Who in the Zoo

They won’t let us” is the thing I hear the most when it comes time to change something. Whether it’s real estate, auditors or ‘management’, at some point, people are going to feel they can’t do something because in 1981 Bob left the toilet seat up in the cross-gender bathroom and now there’s a policy by way of passive-aggressive signage. That led to the sign about cleaning your own dishes, or the sign in the public printer area that you’re not allowed to  use Jim the VP’s special printer paper.

When in doubt, go ask.

My favourite questions to ask are “when you say they, who are you referring to? What is there involvement in this decision? Are there others we need to talk to?”

As a coach, it doesn’t matter to me how Agile my client is, it matters that they clarify who’s responsible for what, what the real boundaries are, what the perceived boundaries are, and what’s the impact if this change experiment runs amok.

4. Wait

Sometimes change is a wait and see game. That can be difficult for people who have performance objectives tied to the number of changes they shove through the organization.

Since you’re visualizing your change work, block everything that’s in progress. When people ask about it, tell them you’re waiting for the experiment to run it’s course.

At my current client, we agreed to visualize our work and to have the VP walk the walls when he’s here. He’s based in the UK so he’s only here once a month. When he showed up last week to walk the walls, people freeeeaked out! “OMG, we have to get the wall ready!!!”

I needed to wait for that to happen. If the highest leader isn’t asking for stuff like this, the change isn’t going to happen.

5. Stalk People…

…In a good way.

At another organization, I wanted  to connect with one of the architects. We sat fairly close to each other so I waited until the end of the day to see when he was getting ready to leave. I timed it so I’d arrive at the elevator at the same time he did.

Then I had 25 seconds to make a connection. I simply asked him how this whole Agile thing was going…and that led to me being invited to their next meeting.

Experience over Certification

Change certification is only good for 3 people:

  1. Someone who is brand new to change, knows absolutely nothing and wants to get some information about what it is
  2. The people who sell the certifications (by the way, the intent is good, I believe, but let’s not kid ourselves…it’s a HUGE money-making business. The Scrum Alliance made $5.5M in certification revenue in 2013 which includes membership fees and class revenue)
  3. Recruiters and HR people who have no idea what makes a good change agent so they assume a certified change thing-a-ma-jigger is a good thing. No offence to these folks, they can’t possibly be experts in every single profession out there.

To close off, ask yourself this question. If the Product Owner you hired has an MBA in Technology and Innovation obtained through full-time study over 3 semesters, how the hell are they going to become an ‘agile expert’ in a 3 day certification course?

Apply that same thinking to someone who has a Masters in Organizational Psychology or Organizational Development.

I visited Victoria University in Melbourne last year…and I met the Dean! This time I wasn’t in trouble, so that was nice. Anyway, a collegue is building a new organizational change program and is planning on incorporating ideas from my book in the course. The first iteration of this course is launched and it’s a 1.5 year program!

Explain to me how a 3 day certification course…or even a 5-day bootcamp, is sufficient by comparison?

Certification has its place, and I’m not naive enough to think it’ll go away any time soon. In fact, it’s just hitting the hockey stick curve. Change certification will explode over the next couple of years while ACMP, CMI and others fight for supremacy over who’s method is the best.

I will never offer a “certification” for my workshop. I am following down the path of Management 3.0. That is, attendees get a Certificate of Attendance, and can then apply for a Certificate of Knowledge, and Certificate of Practice once they’ve tried out what they learned in class.

If you’re interested, Ron Leeman wrote a great post about certification in the change industry as well.

Certifications aren’t going to help you with the 5 points I mentioned here, they’re going to give you templates and forms for people to fill out.

You have a choice, and the more experience you collect by doing work for free (which I’ve done), and pairing with more experienced practitioners (which I’ve done), the more you’re going to realize that people in organizations don’t care how smart you are, or what certifications you have. They care about what the change means to them, and you need to learn how to navigate that hairball.

Find a Lean Change Agent Workshop

Jason Little
Author, Lean Change Management at Leanintuit
I began my career as a web developer when Cold Fusion roamed the earth. Over the following years, I moved into management, Agile Coaching and consulting. The bumps and bruises I collected along the way helped me realize that helping organizations adopt Agile practices was less about the practices, and all about change.
In 2008 I attended an experiential learning conference (AYE) about how people experience change and since then, I’ve been writing, and speaking, all over the world about helping organizations discover more effective practices for managing organizational change.