Porosity: Opening to Change

August 2016
By Annette Templeton, Director of Research, and Andrea Lipton, Director of Learning and Development

OVERVIEW

Porosity is a measure used in several fields, including metallurgy, earth sciences, and engineering. In some cases, it’s measuring the size of the pockets of physical space within a material; in others, it’s a measure of absorbency or of the ability for liquid to flow through a substance. The word porosity stems from the Greek word poros, which means “passage,” or how well something lets things through. This is why the Research Institute at Ferrazzi Greenlight chose porosity to refer to the measure of a person’s ability to open themselves to change intellectually and, more important, let it through so that it affects their behavior.

Traditional change management models use a measure similar to porosity when they assess people’s psychological readiness to change, but this activity does not consider the element that our work on the ground has proven critical to achieving the desired result of change and making it stick: people’s behavioral readiness to change their actions and habits so that they align with a company’s shifting go-to-market strategies.

Traditional change management models use a measure similar to Porosity when they assess people's psychological readiness to change, but this activity does not consider people's behavioral readiness to actually change their actions and habits.

THE POROSITY MATRIX

To capture the full range of people’s relationship to change, we created a comprehensive Porosity Matrix that plots into four quadrants the psychological and behavioral readiness of individuals to act on the imperative for organizational change. These two dimensions of change are represented by mindset (what people think about the change) and behavior (how much are they actively participating in the change). By focusing on these two dimensions simultaneously, organizations can more effectively intervene with the appropriate approach to move leaders and their teams to a state of intellectual and behavioral porosity.

Porous

Individuals who fall into the upper right quadrant are fully accepting of the change and fully practicing the new behavior associated with the change. They’re both intellectually and behaviorally committed to the new way: they’re Porous.

Porous individuals are usually those who are personally invested in the new way. The tasks they undertake aren’t done by rote or out of fear of not meeting management’s expectations. Rather, they’re executed with a strong sense of purpose that resonates with their values. Porous employees are quick to try out new practices and tools, and provide input and feedback for their refinement. They learn from their own successes and failures and quickly recalibrate their efforts as they discover which practices provide the highest return on their efforts. Perhaps, most importantly, Porous employees take accountability for results. Their mantra is “find a way.” And they do, resourcefully.

Example

When Bill, a sales leader in a large automotive company, was asked to be the test pilot for a new approach to consulting with car dealers, he jumped at the chance to partner up with dealer principals in new ways. After all, he’d been thinking that way for years and had done it that way at his last company. While the rationale behind the strategy made sense on an intellectual level, it was the company’s encouragement of him to try things, make mistakes, and optimize the initiative that gave him the psychological safety necessary to dig in with gusto. He took his test-pilot role seriously, gave and received constructive feedback, and took the initiative from good to great in a matter of weeks. His actions as a role model lent “street cred” within his division, which has since scaled across other divisions with measurable success. By being Porous, Bill helped the company scale the “new way” further and faster, with better results.

Posing

Individuals who fall into the upper left quadrant are practicing the new behaviors, but remain resistant to the change. These individuals are “posing” because while they show active participation in the change, they’re not authentically open and accepting of the change.

Just as fear can immobilize employees and thus keep them from acting on change, fear can also cause employees to act on the change in response to pressure-real or perceived-to meet management’s expectations. Doing so, often causes employees to approach the new way behavior as a set of checklist tasks to be completed by rote, without a strong sense of purpose or commitment to big-picture goals, which yields a focus on activities instead of results: they’re Posers.

Posers may also find themselves “doing it” but for the wrong reasons, such as to grab the gains associated with meeting performance objectives or to impress the boss who has the power to promote them. This is one of many ways posers game the system or “phone in” the effort, while posturing as Porous.

Some managers may ask, “Why does it matter if my people are Posers or Porous, as long as they’re demonstrating the behavior I need?” The answer is two-fold: One, the Poser’s behavior isn’t sustainable. While it may fool some of the people some of the time, the Poser’s lack of true acceptance of the change inevitably bubbles up in conversation and behavior and detracts from authentic efforts. Two, the dissonance between the Poser’s outward actions and true beliefs has a toxic effect on the organizational culture: those with a full acceptance of the change tend to be confounded by, and resentful of, the Poser who merely pretends to be on board. Posing takes a toll on the Poser as well. Eventually, without helping Posers develop intellectual acceptance of the reasons for change, they’ll burn out-unless their application experience naturally moves them into Porous, which can happen.

Example

Maria’s company instilled an Agile methodology to keep pace with market demands. Although she felt hemmed in by the new process, she knew the initiative was highly visible and that her next promotion would ride on her behavior. So she “got with the program” and participated in the sprints and team huddles, and she used the tools and methods. Over time, something interesting happened: the discipline of using the process and seeing positive results “converted” Maria in a matter of months to the Porous quadrant. She later confessed that she had decided to “fake it until she felt it,” and in this case, it worked.

Resistant

Individuals in the bottom left quadrant are both unwilling to change their behavior and non-accepting of the intellectual case for change. Because this group is fully resistant on both dimensions (mindset and behavior), they’re prone to acting out and being openly critical of the change-and often, the company itself. Individuals in this quadrant, if they can’t progress on at least one of the dimensions into another quadrant, will likely leave or lose their jobs in time: they’re Resistors.

The behavior of the Resistor tends to be openly critical of the new way, and especially of the behavior associated with it. They may ignore the organization’s call to action, deny the intellectual case for change, blame others to disperse accountability for the change, and negotiate with management to redirect the change in an effort to resist following the established path.

If Porous employees are driving the proverbial bus, Posers are riding the bus, and Resistors are throwing the company under it. Because behavior can be contagious, Resistors must be moved into one of the other quadrants as soon as possible to mitigate their profoundly negative influence on organizational culture. However, leaders must be prepared to either be surprised at how their Resistors can progress into other quadrants over time (and there’s no role model as powerful as a former Resistor), or face the unpleasant task of removing those unwilling to undertake the journey.

Example

A global manufacturing organization announced its commitment to servant leadership. When a sales executive (openly critical of the company’s new direction) continued to demonstrate fist-pounding autocratic behavior in his monthly meetings, he was quietly let go by the CEO. Without naming names, the CEO later said, “Poor leadership comes at a high cost-the effect it has on trust, engagement, loyalty, and customer impact is quantifiable, and we can’t afford it. We will not slip back to our old way behaviors!”

Dormant

Individuals in the bottom right quadrant, are individuals who are fully accepting and open to the idea of change, but are unwilling to act on the application of change: they’re Inert.

Employees can be Inert for many reasons. Their ability to act on the change that they embrace intellectually will be stunted if they’re not clear on the specific “how to” behaviors that make up the new way, that is, they don’t know what doing it right looks like specifically for them. In some cases, employees need help recognizing when it’s time to apply the new way behaviors. Or they may be afraid to lead the charge, either because key influencers are Resistors or because they’re naturally deliberative, preferring to wait and see if the new way really sticks before doing the work of changing their own behavior. In some cases, employees simply lack the talent required to excel in new way behaviors, although it’s hardly an excuse for not trying. More often, there are blockers-limiting factors in the employee’s thinking or in the organizational culture-that impede the Inert’s ability to apply new way behaviors.

Without a behavioral commitment to apply new way behavior, an employee’s intellectual commitment to change can cause cognitive dissonance for the organization. Doing things the “old way” when they recognize they need to change can undermine the performance of the Inert employee, and increase stress.

Example

Wade, a middle manager in a large healthcare organization, would nod sagely and respond with earnest support whenever leaders made the case for change. At a company off-site, when an executive emphasized her expectation that people arrive on time for meetings and avoid multitasking, Wade publicly affirmed the importance of this shift in meeting culture. But the very next week, Wade spent his meetings texting furiously from the back of the meeting room as usual, because he was “up to his ass in alligators.” Wade’s reputation for embracing ideas without action eroded his credibility within the organization. Worse, his behavior was contagious. As soon as others saw him with his phone out and laptop open, it signaled to them that it was okay for everyone to ignore the new meeting protocol as well. When his boss called him out on his lack of compliance with the new meeting protocol, Wade replied, “I know, I know. I just can’t seem to practice what I preach. I’ll do it as soon as my schedule lets up.”

The Journey Toward Porosity

For employees to progress their state of Porosity within their organizations, both individually and within their teams, they need to feel an emotional connection to the change. This is why Ferrazzi Greenlight coaches leaders to share their own humble, fallible journey – and lead with their vulnerability. This not only helps the individual leader become more porous but it is an effective way to help others begin opening as well.

Typically, the journey toward porosity is launched through a mutual challenge at a formal event that ignites a shared sense of purpose that can open up others to the possibility of change. But the challenge won’t motivate anyone if it is delivered by an emotionally remote leader, unable or unwilling to communicate with candor, humility, and vulnerability. Unless leaders share their own emotional stake in the change – saying, in effect, “I am one of you” – they will never gain the empathy and emotional buy-in that leads to personal commitment. When the challenge is authentic and human, the challenge to change becomes a collective journey, where everyone has a stake and won’t let one another fail.

Example:

A CEO of a large manufacturing organization rallied for a call to action to challenge his sales force to take specific actions to repair relationships with key customer accounts. Before asking them to change, however, he shared his own recognition of his personal need go the extra mile to reach out and make amends with key stakeholders. He was humble-even vulnerable-which modeled the introspection and humility necessary for sales teams to open up the personal porosity necessary for them to behave in a new way.

Of course, helping employees navigate from where they are to a state of porosity requires the ability to quickly assess the organization’s culture and identify the levers and blockers associated with moving from the current to the desired culture. Ferrazzi Greenlight’s multidisciplinary approach to behavior change improves porosity for change, which in turn accelerates achievement of, and accountability for, desired business results.

OPERATIONALIZING POROSITY

In order to measure the level of porosity among individuals and groups of individuals, Ferrazzi Greenlight has designed the FG Porosity Index. This index provides measurement along the two dimensions: mindset toward change and behavioral participation in the change.

The 12 items constructed for this index are based on Oreg’s research on change readiness and change resistance (Oreg, 2003).

Mindset

Oreg’s research on change readiness and change resistance defines four factors:

  • Routine seeking
  • Emotional Reaction
  • Short-term thinking
  • Cognitive Rigidity

Behavioral Participation

This aspect of porosity could conceivably be measured using either self-reported data on how an individual behaves and/or observing actual behavior. Observing behavior, however, poses a research challenge due to the needed resources and the difficulty in having line of sight into the kinds of behavior most companies are interested in measuring (e.g., start every staff meeting with a “Personal Professional Check-In” – the amount of effort that would be required to “count” such a thing among a number of employees or employee teams isn’t feasible in a typical work or research environment.) Therefore, Ferrazzi Greenlight has designed question items to measure individuals on the behaviorally focused factors from Oreg’s research:

  • Routine seeking behavioral questions
  • Short-term thinking behavioral questions

States of Porosity

In addition, the Ferrazzi Greenlight Porosity Index is designed to observe to states of porosity:

  • “Natural Porosity:” A person’s natural response to any kind of change, how they are hard-wired, their DNA.
  • “Contextual Porosity:” A person’s affective and behavioral responses to a specific, named change. This is akin to “taking a person’s temperature” rather than “testing their DNA.”

With this framework, the specific question items are designed to measure the following 12 variables[1]. Each question item is measured using a five-point, anchored Likert scale to gauge level of agreement.

Natural Porosity – Mindset

  • Preference for routine over surprises
  • Feeling stress in response to news of changes at work
  • A tendency to resist the idea of change even if there are known benefits over the long run
  • A tendency to change one’s mind frequently

Natural Porosity – Behavior

  • Preference to do things the same way rather than trying new behavioral activities
  • Avoidance of new activities even when there are known benefits over the long run

Contextual Porosity – Mindset

  • In response to a specific change initiative, psychological readiness to adopt a new routine
  • In response to a specific change initiative, expressing a feeling of stress
  • In response to a specific change initiative, acknowledgement that there are benefits over the long run
  • In response to a specific change initiative, insistence that current behaviors will still be acceptable

Contextual Porosity – Behavior

  • In response to a specific change initiative, active participation in the desired new behaviors
  • In response to a specific change initiative, experiencing benefits from desired new behaviors and acknowledging their long term potential

Upon completion of the 12-item questionnaire, the FG Porosity Index is calculated through two aggregate sub-scales – one score is calculated for Mindset Porosity and a separate score is calculated for Behavioral Porosity. Individuals or teams are then plotted on the Porosity Matrix described in the first part of this paper. The location of individuals and/or teams on the Porosity Matrix directs coaching and intervention efforts to move individuals toward the upper right hand quadrant reflecting the highest level of porosity.

References

Oreg, S. (2003). Resistance to Change: Developing an Individual Differences Measure. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 88, No. 4 , 680 – 693.

[1] Specific question wording is the property of Ferrazzi Greenlight, Inc. and available upon request.