Have you ever had to deal with a black hole on your team?
“As predicted by general relativity, the presence of a large mass deforms spacetime in such a way that the paths taken by particles bend towards the mass. At the event horizon of a black hole, this deformation becomes so strong that there are no paths that lead away from the black hole” – Wikipedia
I’m not a physicist so here’s a simplified view that I can fit in my smaller brain:
Black holes are like huge “gravity traps” sucking in all energy from the surrounding area. Energy and mass are drawn toward the event horizon, sucked in and lost forever. The more they take in, the larger or denser they get.
Here’s some cool stuff I learned from Karl Schoemer a few years ago.
A team undergoing change can be coarsely divided into 3 behaviors: Design, Default and Defiant/Detractor.
• The “Design” population are your role models; your supporters & change agents – but be aware, some may have short attention spans or become zealots. This is up to 20% of your population.
• Those following the “Default” behavior will sit on the fence; “What.. …ever”, “it doesn’t apply to me”, “I’ll carry on as I am thank you” are all common “default” responses. Typically this is 70% of your population!
• ”Defiant/Detractor” behavior exhibits extreme symptoms including shouting, arguments, tantrums, sabotage, threatening to leave and pulling everyone else down with them. Less extreme responses include focusing on the minutiae, public cynicism and endless debate without action. In many cases, whilst this may seem prevalent, often this is actually as little as 10% of your population!
Now let’s return to the Black Hole. In space, black holes are invisible - only their effects can be seen. In change management, we simply fail to recognize and identify them.
Human black holes must be understood and handled with extreme caution.
For those inexperienced with black holes, your instinct will be to try and defuse them. You must spot when you are feeding a metaphorical black hole, rewarding negative behavior by pouring your finite energy and resources in. Feeding black holes provides them additional credibility in front of their peers – their gravity trap grows ever-larger.
Lean values time… Eliminate waste! – Where are you wasting your energy?
If you removed the energy feeding a black hole would it eventually burn out?
In human change, detractors usually either get with the program or leave.
If you’ve read some of my prior articles you’ll know that whilst I appreciate good people; if your behavior and attitude isn’t up to scratch, all the technical prowess in the world is unlikely to make me want you on my team.
Some black holes may be an almost permanent rift in space. Work to minimize their impact and sphere of influence rather than offering more fuel. Consider using them as your “professional cynic” – your sounding board for the detractor response – but be aware this is a lot like playing dodgeball with a burning coal. It’s usually safer to move them away from the powder magazine instead.
Where could your wasted energy be better spent?
Simple! Use it to shift the center of gravity on your team away from the black hole.
Partner with your “design” members as a team and swing your population of defaulters toward your chosen direction. Some may be pulled toward or into the black hole but work on the overall gravity shift to bring the team around.
If you don’t have sufficient design weight to adjust the center of gravity right now, go digging for more – one person at a time if needed. At some point you will be able to tip the balance.
(Oh – a nod to Muse for inspiring the title of this post)