Coaching to Build Influence

How do we coach leaders and executives within the context of the Complexity Space™ Framework (CSF)? We help them build their skill at influencing change.

We first need to explain our definition of Leadership as, “practiced formal and informal roles within an organization’s Ecosystem for accountability, authority, decision making, risk taking and innovation.”  On the surface this may not seem too far from more traditional takes on leadership but it is how a leader works in the CSF that is different.

In the Complexity Space™ Framework, continuous, often unpredictable change is the “normal” state. Traditional top-down, “command and control” styles of leadership are not effective when the “right” answer is always changing! It becomes even more critical to have leaders consciously act as catalysts that are both confident and conscious that perturbing existing patterns will influence the system to change.

Think “Influence-ship”

We call this skill “influence-ship” to distinguish it from traditional leadership approaches and further explain the differences that leaders confront in complex systems.

Coaching in the CSF focuses on developing the individual’s capacity to understand and influence other people by recognizing behaviors (patterns) within the context of the organization’s Ecosystem – history culture, context, and motivation.  We believe it is possible to intentionally influence behaviors when there is an understanding of the system-wide patterns that got us to where we are now.

The one-day “Blitz”

A senior manager we had met during a reorganization project we were working with recently mentioned her frustration in identifying “What comes next?” in her career. Early on she decided to touch base with an internal coach and shared that the conversations kept going down the same path, resulting in her ending up in the same “stuck” place she had been before.  We are assigning no blame for this result and the coach may have been equally frustrated with Sally!

We asked Sally (not her real name) if she would be interested in a different approach to the issue; an approach based the principles of complexity. She was willing to try something different and we arranged for a one-day “blitz” to see what we might discover.

The session began with a brief introduction to the properties of complex systems. Sally quickly grasped the distinction between complex systems as “machines” – linear, predictable, “do this and that will happen,” and systems as “gardens” – no guarantees, emerging; can be influenced but not controlled.

We then shared the elements of the Complexity Space™ Framework and briefly described each with an understanding that we would start with the first appropriate step of the Navigation Process and see where we landed. In this case, the appropriate question we asked is, “Is where you are now where you want to be?” Sally determined that she would like to leave the session feeling reconnected to her search, inspired to think bigger and differently, and ideally to have some new ideas emerge for further consideration.

Having determined she wanted new thinking, we recognized the value of stepping “backwards” to the patterns that contributed to her current decisions.  We spent time assessing the Ecosystem Dimensions with a focus on her patterns for thinking about her career choices. We focused the conversations on each of the four Dimensions based on her desired outcomes for the day.

For example, our discussion of “History” centered around her various education and career choices and accomplishment. The “Motivation” conversation revolved around her goals and objectives. What did she want from her job in the short- and long-term? How have answers changed over time? We did the same for the “Context” – how had the surrounding environment changed. Finally, we explored the upcoming changes to perceived “Culture” in her current organization.

The focus for these conversations was learning and sharing rather than evaluating or fixing. We helped Sally when she fell into the typical trap of judging herself, reminding herself that the act of talking about these issues is what was most important.

After a break, we moved forward to identify the criteria that would be important for Sally to consider as she contemplated various possible short- and long-term moves. Those criteria included work-life balance, ability to retain a reasonable amount of freedom and control, a strong desire for periodic international travel, and the ability to bring as much of her education, skills, and experience as possible to her next career moves. Interestingly, money, benefits, promotion, and having a fancy title were not perceived to be nearly as important as the first items listed.

In an interesting (and non-traditional coaching) step, Sally asked us to brainstorm potential next steps. Her hope was that hearing suggestions from a different person(s) might add some new ideas, and allow her to “switch channels” from talking to herself and others to listening.

We responded in a non-traditional way, challenging her to think about what new patterns of thought and action might result in different ways for her to achieve her goals. Given our limited time, we suggested focusing on one of the seven CSF Catalysts to provide an example of how she could think differently. We chose to explore “Connections.” Challenging her to look beyond her “usual” networks, we asked her to connect with two people – one inside and one outside her current organization – whom she would not normally discuss career guidance.

As the day ended, Sally committed to exploring the other Catalysts on her own and identifying potential actions she could take. We suggested she then prioritize those against her desired outcome and identify “the next smart steps” – and take them!

Taking those steps will disrupt her career patterns, triggering the learning cycles inherent in the Navigation Process. We agreed to continue the dialogue in the coming weeks.

What patterns might you challenge as you think about your career?

We hope you will share your stories, questions and even disagreements with our articles because that is the only way we can continue to make sure Complexity Works.

Coaching for a Different Kind of Change

“We talked about how to change her behavior. She said she would – and she tried – but she’s back to doing the same thing.”

Sound familiar? Whether you are trying to support another person’s behavior change (or trying to change one of your own – just substitute “I” for “her” in the quote above), our well thought out and intentional  plans don’t always create the results we desire.

Expert advice is plentiful. “Say it in different ways.” “Appeal to all of their senses.” “Make sure they understand WIIFM (“What’s in it for Me.”) “Be consistent.” All of that advice is sound, is based on research, and makes intuitive sense. Yet it does not always work. Why?

We think part of the issue is that the person looking to change – and the coach/manager supporting that individual – focuses all of their attention on the behavior itself. What is missing is a concurrent focus on the patterns that underlie that behavior. It’s a variation on the maxim, “If you give a person a fish, they eat for a day. If you teach them to fish, they (hopefully) eat for a lifetime.”

There are two implications of this for coaches. First, consider the bold-faced “teach them to fish” part of the quote. There are several assumptions embedded in that phrase. First – there has to be a sufficient level of awareness of patterns, techniques, and tools that differentiate one way of fishing from another. Second, there has to be language with which to express those differences. Third, there has to be enough connection for sender and receiver to make sense of the exchange. If my fishing guide gives me a book to read in French and I speak (and read) only English, even though the techniques and language are there, the ability to connect is not.

Second, consider the word “hopefully.” There are no guarantees when it comes to changing the behavior of complex systems (like people, teams, and organizations)! These systems behave in “routines” that are functions of history, context, culture and motivation. Each of those “Dimensions” (one of the elements of our Complexity Space™ Framework (CSF)) is continuously changing – sometimes imperceptibly, other times dramatically. Patterns that are effective in one context may not be effective in another.  The “how to fish” in warm water on a sunny day is very different than the “how to fish” in cold water on a cloudy day.

Hopefully this perspective offers those of us trying to foster change in ourselves and others some new possibilities:

  • Consider the history, context, culture, and motivation that underlies the behaviors in question.
  • Pay extraordinary attention to checking for the “connection” between yourself and your coachee. Ask for paraphrases; check for understanding; offer examples and stories as illustrations.
  • Be patient. While there are several things you can do to “bump” a pattern (Catalysts in the CSF), there are no guarantee that they will make any difference at all, create change in the direction you hope, or in the timeframe that you desire. Deep-seated patterns took a long time to form – do you really think a couple of conversations will change them forever?
  • Be gentle on yourself and the person you’re coaching! The best fishermen sometimes come home with empty creels. Rather than blame yourself or the person you’re trying to help, be curious instead. What worked? What didn’t? What surprised you? What might you try differently next time?

This post is one of several we’ll be creating in the first quarter of 2017 about the applications of the CSF within an organization’s Human Resources and Professional Development strategies. We hope you will share your stories, questions and even disagreements with our articles because that is the only way we can continue to make sure Complexity Works!

Navigating Your Recruiting Strategy

In an earlier post, “Adapting Your Recruiting Process – It’s all about the View,” we suggested that system-wide patterns generated by an organization’s Ecosystem Dimensions offer a different view of a recruiting strategy. Deciding how to proceed in light of that new perspective can be perplexing.

Navigating an organization’s existing procedures and processes is similar to opening a map, figuring out where you are and where you deciding where you want to go. We think that the most beneficial way to navigate is to pay attention to the journey as much as the destination.

The Navigation Process is the central linking element between the Complexity Space™ Framework and existing organizational practices. Widely accepted and successful process methodologies serve an important function in helping teams and organizations move in a systematic and consistent way – they are responsible for the well-defined roadways on many organizational maps.

However, when the destination changes, an organization may need to reorient itself on the map. We designed the Complexity Space Framework’s Navigation Process (CSF-NP) as an adaptive process that introduces a less rigid set of sequential steps through seven stages of inquiry, assessment and action. Although the graphic of the CSF-NP invites a clockwise movement around the organization’s Complexity Space, there are an infinite number of possible locations or points to enter and then navigate the map. The primary goal of using the CSF Navigation Process is to more effectively surface pattern-based insights for pattern-based change across the organization.

What happens if we go off path?

Let’s circle back to your recruiting strategy. How are you currently identifying and surfacing the toughest challenges/issues in your organization’s recruiting, interviewing and hiring actions?

A “current state” process map of the recruiting function will show existing critical paths and linkages, the well-worn patterns of travel between internal and external networks used in your recruiting strategy. But what happens when you recognize that moving along the same pathway isn’t working? As an HR leader, how do you digress from the path without getting “lost in the woods?”

This is where the CSF-NP offers new insights due to its focus on patterns. Depending on the project and the organization, the most intuitive place to begin is Where you Are Now. Although we refer to the CSF Navigation Process as seven steps, they also can be described as seven locations or points on the map and with experience, you can start anywhere on the map.

The motivation to assess your HR Strategy could be forced by changing patterns in the competitive landscape or economic drivers of your business or the growing dissatisfaction of a business unit in filling open positions. Defining the reason for the journey helps establish the first step in the CSF Navigation Process.

Begin Where?

Wherever you enter the map, questions focus your navigation, reinforcing the importance of first orienting yourself to the location and then exploring how to proceed. In much the same spirit as to where should you begin, there is no one correct or obvious way to get where you are going. The answers generated by location prompts will lead to suggestions for both the next smart step or the need to revisit a previous location on the map.  As you consider the graphic representation of the CSF-NP, where would you begin navigating your recruiting strategy?

In future posts about the applications of the Complexity SpaceTM Framework, we will inevitably return to the CSF Navigation Process to help orient us to where we are and where we need to go.

We hope you will share your stories, questions and even disagreements with our articles because that is the only way we can continue to make sure Complexity Works


Getting from Here to Where?

“My goal for this year is …” The beginning of a new calendar year is a natural time for resolutions, goal setting, and fresh beginnings. While well intentioned, both experience and research indicate that the majority don’t achieve their desired outcomes.

While there are many possible reasons for this, the difference between reaching a goal or not may be as straight forward as using a map. We think a map (yes they were actually printed on foldable paper) is a very useful tool and metaphor for how individuals, teams, and organizations navigate from one point to another.

Maps show the routes (roads) available, present standardized information about those routes (local road or highway), and provide an estimate of how far the start point is from the destination (mileage scale). The navigator picks the optimum route (based on speed, sightseeing, where relatives or friends live, etc.) and sets off along the charted course. The goal? Stay on the route! If followed as closely as possible, there should be no doubt the vehicle will arrive at its destination.
Imagine you have created the following plan (map) for weight loss:

Starting point: 165 pounds. 

Destination: 150 pounds.

Best route: Consume 1500 calories a day, reduce carbs, increase protein, and walk (briskly) for 30 minutes daily.

Doing the math: Destination will be accomplished in 6 weeks. Ready? Set? Go!!

After six weeks, did you reach the destination? For many, the answer is no. Parties, friends, a new bakery, or other roadblocks get in the way.

Notice the differences in both visualizing and employing the Complexity Space™ Framework “Navigation Process” (CSF-NP):


  • The map is ringed by questions
  • There are no directional arrows
  • Everything is connected to everything else
  • There is no scale
  • There are no differentiations between the routes


We think this is a more realistic representation of how change is navigated in complex systems. Something happens (a “Disruption” in the CSF) that causes the person/team/organization to find themselves located at some point in the graphic above.


Examples of disruptions might include:

  • A best practice is shared by another team or announced in the industry
  • Internal or external customers suggest/demand a change
  • The annual budgeting/goal setting/strategic planning process is implemented and gaps/opportunities are identified

Once oriented in the Navigation Process, the parties involved often (but not always) start their journey towards change by moving clockwise from wherever they are. This sequential flow has much in common with traditional models like DMAIC or PDCA in the process improvement world.

Then reality presents a detour. Something new and unexpected occurs. People change. The surrounding environment or competitors change. A step forward takes longer than anticipated or is never taken. In a traditional plan, this would cause consternation. The plan is no longer usable and has to be discarded! Whose fault is it?

In the CSF-NP, those same disruptions are understood as a reality of working within complex systems. Rather than cause alarm, they invite conversation and learning. In the CSF Navigation Process, there is no negative connotation associated with moving “backwards” in a counter-clockwise direction. In fact, it is OK to move in a scattered direction among the various questions. Notice. Synthesize. Learn. Experiment. Repeat.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

― Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

Starting point: 165 pounds. 

Destination: 150 pounds.

Initial Experiment: Consume 1500 calories a day, reduce carbs, increase protein, and walk (briskly) for 30 minutes daily.

If everything goes perfectly, the best case scenario is: destination will be accomplished in 6 weeks.

Disruption: Attend wedding and eat/drink/celebrate too much. Notice: Self-control goes out the window with regards to calories – and it was a GREAT Time! Synthesize: I have a history of overdoing it when food is presented to me (hot appetizers) and readily available (buffet). Learning: need to be more conscious of intake in these situations. Experiment: Bring an index card and pen to next social function. Make a mark every time I take a hot appetizer or make a trip to the buffet. Ask myself if I really want it. If yes, take it and eat it slowly! Hope that taking the “grab one if it’s offered” response off of autopilot will result in fewer calories consumed.

Is this approach “guaranteed” to work? Of course not. Does it minimize unproductive blaming, maximize learning, and recognize the reality of complex change? We think so.

We hope this more fluid, adaptive approach to navigating change offers you new possibilities for thought and action. To learn more about the Complexity Space™ Framework, visit our website at or purchase our book, “Complexity Works!” at

Adapting Your Recruiting Process – It’s all about the View

Our first article in the series Complexity Works! with HR Strategy, provides a context for exploring HR Strategy through the Complexity Space™ Framework (CSF).  As the primary function within an organization that focuses on the values, processes, policies and programs that are touched by people, HR is a guardian of the behaviours that are embedded in the system-wide patterns (Ecosystems) of the organization.

Adapting your recruiting process to emphasize analytics and digital efficiency is only one part of finding the right person for your organization. With the Complexity Space™ Framework (CSF) you are encouraged to add another perspective when evaluating the results of your recruiting process—results that are influenced by the most enduring pattern-based influences and systems in your organization. It’s all about the View.

To give you an appreciation of what a different view highlights, we will reference each of the Complexity Space™ Framework’s “Ecosystem Dimensions” to answer the question, “What are the patterns that underlie our current recruiting process?” Although this question appears extremely broad, it is often necessary to expand the view as wide as possible.

The four Dimensions of Organizational Ecosystems define enduring, deeply embedded ecosystem-wide patterns that offer a different way to discuss and adapt existing “structures” of your organization.

  • History: The organizational system’s traditions and significant historical milestones
  • Context: The surroundings in which the organizational system operates
  • Culture: Who and what the organizational system is at its core
  • Motivation: What was the “attractor” that brought the organization into existence? What is the “glue” that holds it together?

Now that’s a different view

A well respected and financially successful organization had seen the quantity and diversity of potential candidates decrease significantly enough to consider retooling their entire recruiting process. We interviewed a cross section of staff from the HR function and actively hiring business units to help them better understand why that might be happening.

A recurring theme was the physical location of the business. Longer term employees emphasized the benefits of having both challenging work and a desirable lifestyle that outweighed any concerns about geographic location. More recent employees had a different view of location and lifestyle; mentioning the lack of desirable activities and amenities outside of work hours.

The organization’s Motivation to keep the company in a particular place was tied into the organization’s History. The location was selected by the company founders based on considerations of the logistics and operations which were central to the growth of the enterprise at the time the business was established. The Culture of the organization reflects pride in supporting the values and lifestyle supported by their presence in that geographic location. The Context in which the organization operates is also important. Moving from an “uncool” to a “cool” location was not feasible because of economic and competitive constraints.

So what is this organization to do to address the concerns of its younger and potential employees? What does it “sell” to counteract the concerns with geographic location? We helped the organization to see that it could reframe its branding to highlight the positive values associated with the current geographic location. We suggested they highlight values such as safe, family friendly, and affordable. We encouraged them to create sales messages – via their website and social media – featuring young, diverse employees telling their personal stories of overcoming initial scepticism to experience personal and professional growth and work-life balance.

By asking the question, “What are the patterns that underlie our current recruiting process?” the conversations that ensue will lead to new ideas for your recruiting process.

This post is one of several we’ll be creating in the first quarter of 2017 about the applications of the CSF within an organization’s Human Resources and Professional Development strategies. We hope you will share your stories, questions and even disagreements with our articles because that is the only way we can continue to make sure Complexity Works!