How Well Do Your Beliefs Serve You?


2936389167_f730a77a64_zOur beliefs are our truths. They are the way things are. They are “facts,” often taken for granted. Much like those truths in the Declaration of Independence, we hold our truths to be “self-evident.” They are unquestioned. They are what we believe. They are Truth (with a capital T).

But, are they really truth everlasting? Are they really facts? Are they the way things are, to remain unquestioned? Or are they open to examination?

Our beliefs are among our strongest anchors. I certainly wouldn’t recommend throwing them to the wind, cutting ourselves lose from them without careful reflection. But, when you are facing change, when you are moving from a past into a future in an intentional way, I do encourage you to ask the question, How well are my beliefs serving me?

It isn’t necessary to ask of every belief. But it is worth asking of those that may, in fact, not be serving you well. Here is a short list of some of the beliefs that I have found clients holding that were preventing them from moving forward successfully with their changes.

  • I can do it all.
  • I can’t say no.
  • I’m no good with technology (or languages, or math, or…).
  • I can do this in X time (while always underestimating by magnitudes).
  • I’m no good at selling.
  • I’m too shy to network.
  • I have too many years invested to change now.
  • By my very nature I’m a workaholic.
  • I can’t fail.
  • I never succeed.
  • I would have to start all over again, and I’m not in a position to do that.
  • They need to change; I don’t.
  • I know what I am doing; I don’t need any help.

It’s easy to see how each of these beliefs could work against successfully making a major change.

So what do you do if you have a belief (or beliefs) that are not serving you well? Continue reading

Don’t Focus on Breaking Old Habits.


thumbs down up fullFor the most part, our habits are more visible to others than they are to ourselves. They are, by definition, “routine.” We don’t think about them before we do them; we aren’t aware that we are doing them; and too often we don’t notice that we have done them. Others may anticipate them… “This is when she always turns her notepad over and looks with disdain across her desk.” They certainly recognize them… “Here he goes again. One. Two. Three. Beet red and now the fist pounds the table.” But, for the most part it is only afterwards that we think, “I need to stop doing that,” if we even know that we just did it.

The problem is, stopping doing that, whatever that is, can be extremely difficult. Breaking a habit means Continue reading

“What Would Steve Do?”


iStock_000015325710SmallSome of us have trouble figuring out and committing to a path forward. The reasons are varied. We may not have all the facts we think we need. We may not be certain that we can get those whose support we want on board. We may feel uncomfortable with making decisions in general, or this decision in particular.

It is then that we all too often turn to someone else (a consultant, a coach, a therapist, a friend…) and say, “What would you do?” As a change mentor, I hear it all the time.

When I hear this question, I often think of a quote from Matsuo Basho: Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old, seek what they sought.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the question. It is a way of gaining different perspectives, especially if you are asking a diverse group of people who bring different backgrounds and experiences to the table. What does this look like through a financial lens, through a magnitude of change lens, through a market lens, through a feasibility lens? What does it look like through an interpersonal lens, through a spiritual lens, through a personal alignment lens?

Ask the question. Gather the insights. Weigh them.

It’s what all too often happens next that concerns me. Sometimes the decision is to not decide; there are too many divergent perspectives to commit to a path forward. Sometimes, it becomes a “hop scotch” of trying one thing for a bit, then jumping to the next, waiting to find something that seems to stick. And, sometimes we have someone else to blame if the chosen direction or actions don’t work out. “John got it wrong.” “Steve put us on the wrong path.” “How could Hannah have been so off?”

The truth is simple. If it is your change, you need to own your decisions. You need to own the correct ones. And, you need to own the incorrect ones. You ask John, Steve, and Hannah because they are bringing something to the assessment that you don’t have. None of them has everything you bring to the table either; none of them own the change in the way you do. You shouldn’t be asking them if you suspect they may give you bad advice, intentionally or otherwise. But what you are getting is advice, not instruction. If you choose to go forward with it, that is your choice, not their responsibility.

As Basho suggests, don’t follow in their footsteps, follow in their wisdom. If it will be helpful, go ahead and ask “What would Steve do?” Then have the courage and strength to make the decision, and to hold yourself accountable for the consequences.

How do you request–and respond to–counsel from others? Comment below.



When Organizations “Just Leave”


iStock_000009672442SmallLast week’s post addressed individuals “just leaving” before having a clear picture of where they were going. When I began to write it, I thought that I had to focus the post on individuals since organizations don’t just leave. But, in their own way, they actually do. After all, “just leaving” is in the eye of the beholder.

While it may be an oversimplification, organizations are collections of people working together to deliver products or services; many, though not all, do so within the context of a broader vision and mission. Their products and/or services are delivered to specific markets.

Through this lens, an organization may choose to leave its people, its markets, one or more of its product/service lines, or even its vision and mission.

In early October 2003 an American airstrike hit a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Dozens of people were killed and injured, including several medical personnel serving on behalf of Doctors Without Borders. Reluctantly, the organization withdrew from Kunduz, leaving the war torn region grossly underserved. Sometimes, organizations–like individuals–find themselves in untenable situations that require an immediate retreat.

However, sometimes organizations “just leave” for economic reasons, and they do so in ways that create significant hardship for their people and the communities they are leaving. Factories are shuttered; storefronts are boarded up; offices are vacated. Jobs are eliminated, or are moved elsewhere. All too often, the announcements and the actions come after considerable analysis and planning in headquarters, but with little or no forewarning for those who will be affected. Generally, the law is obeyed, union contracts–if they exist–are complied with, personnel policies are adhered to. But the leaving is experienced as a negative failure at the local level. “They just left.”

To me, there is another way to “just leave” in this situation; it is one that I have recommended to clients in the past. Engage those being left in defining how to make the leaving a success. “How do we successfully end our operations here…successfully for you as employees, successfully for your families, successfully for the community, and successfully for us as an organization?” By returning a sense of control to those being impacted by the change, you are not only reducing the level of disruption they are feeling. You are also positively affecting how your brand will be seen. You are no longer “just leaving.”

There are times when organizations leave their product/service offerings. As a sometime photographer I experienced this first-hand about a decade ago. I used to shoot Scala, a black and white slide film, with my Minolta pro camera. In one year, Agfa, which manufactured Scala, went out of business, and Minolta merged with Konica; they left the field of photography altogether to focus on office products. Their leaving was understandable. Quite simply, digital photography was replacing film at all levels of the market; the industry was being shaken up from all directions.

I cannot speak to the experience of the employees when these two corporate departures took place; I can speak to the consumer experience. Initially I saw this as a negative change. I preferred film to digital, which does not capture black and  white the same way. I had thousands of dollars of lenses suitable for Minolta–but not other–camera bodies. (For those unfamiliar with photography, different manufacturers use different lens mounts, making it difficult, and expensive, to switch brands.) Yet, while the transition was uncomfortable, it proved to be manageable.

Scala film required special processing; there were perhaps a half-dozen labs in the country that developed it at the time. One by one they closed down their Scala darkrooms as the demand faded; as late as this spring there was still one available for those still shooting with the film.

Minolta sold all of its patents to Sony, which began developing digital camera bodies that could use Minolta lenses. Today, Sony’s digital cameras are highly regarded in the world of pro photographers. I still shoot with the Minolta lenses, along with some newer lenses manufactured by Sony. My digital camera bodies are made by Sony.

If your organization is planning to leave product/service lines, pay attention to the customer experience. Communicate with them; if possible, offer them paths to successfully transition to other ways of accomplishing what your products/services were providing to them. Leave, but don’t abandon your customers in the process.

Leaving your mission or vision is particularly challenging; beyond the products and services, these are what tie the organization to its employees and its external stakeholders.

Sometimes, the leaving is due to the vision having been fulfilled. As one example, some nonprofits whose mission was to achieve marriage equality have now closed their doors. Others have reframed their vision and mission to a broader equality perspective. In the former case, acknowledge those who have supported your pursuit of the mission, and do everything that you can to assist your employees in transitioning to other employment.

Whether you are a nonprofit or for profit, when the vision and/or mission change, it is important to acknowledge those who have supported you from outside, whatever that relationship might have been. Some may stay, while others may leave; they all warrant recognition. The same will be true of employees. When the organization’s purpose for being shifts, not everyone inside of it will want to remain. Once again, how you respond as an organization will say a great deal to them, as well as to others. Don’t demonize those who elect to not take the change journey; honor them for what the have given in the past, and support them in making their own changes in employment.

Sometimes organizations leave because their current paradigm is no longer serving their customers, their shareholders, and/or their employees. The following paraphrases the announcement of a large commercial bank that was shifting its paradigm; this was how they told their rank-and-file employees.

They began by stating the case for change. They then want on to say this.

We are closing the old commercial bank; we are opening a new one. It will be very different, as described earlier. As an employee of the old bank, you are invited to apply for a position at the new bank. We know that no one is fully qualified for these positions. For that reason, we are providing you with position descriptions, skills requirements, and professional development worksheets. When you interview for your new position, please be prepared to discuss your worksheet with the interviewer. That will allow us to know what we need to do to help you be successful in your new position.

I love to tell this story because it says so much about what it means to “do it right” when your organization is leaving in any way. It acknowledges the significance of the change. The case for change provided clear answers to questions such as “Why?” and “Why now?” By “closing the bank,” individual employees regained control of their future; they could make the decision as to whether they would leave or stay (apply for a position in the new bank), rather than waiting to see if they would be retained or terminated. It does not try to make people comfortable about the change; that would be disingenuous. Instead, it shows a strong commitment to helping people succeed despite their discomfort.

Finally, there is the story of a large technology-based company that was being acquired by another giant in its industry. As is the norm with major mergers and acquisitions, there is a significant time lag between announcement and closing (or not) of the deal while it undergoes regulatory review. During this time it is not unusual for the company being acquired to experience significant drops in productivity and quality as employees across the organization wonder about their future. Those who are most capable of transitioning to new jobs elsewhere will often do so, leaving the organization weaker in its ability to transition into the acquiring company.

In this case, the company being acquired did something different. They made use of the time to strengthen their internal ability to address change, a capability that would serve them well whether or not the deal was eventually completed. They put more than 1,000 of their most senior managers through a one-day workshop on leading during times of uncertainty. As a result, the company was able to sustain its performance levels, despite the discomfort that employees were experiencing.

Organizations do leave. When the do, unless the circumstances are unexpectedly dire, they should leave successfully. To leave successfully calls for looking at the human impact, not just the bottom line, and carefully considering that impact across stakeholder groups, as well as the organizational brand. It warrants finding ways to engage those affected so that they are able to regain a sense of control over their own fates. And–when possible–it is worth investing in preparing people for the inevitable disruption that they will experience with the change.

Have you experienced an organization leaving? Share it below.

Don’t Just Leave!


Cirrus clouds and a blank directional sign. with Clipping PATH

Too many change journeys start at an ending. They are about leaving the current situation: a relationship, a job, a career, a shifting market, an outmoded product line or production process.

This post looks at “just leaving” at the personal level. What surprised me in writing it is how many parallels exist at the organizational level. Next week’s entry will address organizations “just leaving.”

As I’ve often posted before, change does require letting go; there is stopping and releasing some of the old to make room for the new. The challenge is this… Many roads might lead you away from where you are. But if you don’t know where you are going, which is the right one to take?

Sometimes it is important to leave before knowing your destination. For whatever reason, the situation is untenable: an abusive partner or boss; bullying from co-workers or classmates that cannot be stopped. Sometimes the choice isn’t yours: a layoff or termination, a divorce announced, a career choice no longer in demand.

When this happens, find the nearest safe way-station in your journey. This may be physical: a shelter, a family member’s home; I have one friend who–upon being laid off–set up “office” in a corner of the local Starbucks the next day; she was there five days a week as she prepared for her journey.

Your situation may require an economic way-station: finding a new job, finding new clients so you can fly solo, going to work for a temp agency.

I have been let go from my job before; I have been dumped by a long-term partner in a relationship before. It isn’t easy! As I reflect back, I remember the counsel of one of my mentors:

Don’t confuse the present with the total. It is a moment, the one you are in now. But in another moment there will be a different present. Each present is real. But none is forever.

Find your way-station. Then use it as the launching pad for your change journey. Know it is not forever.

If circumstances allow, don’t leave until you are prepared. As Phil Cousineau (“The Art of Pilgrimage”) writes, “Being ready mentally, spiritually, and physically makes us lighter on our feet, more adroit at making decisions, and perhaps even helps keep chaos at bay.”

For me, being prepared requires several things. It requires knowing your destination, and knowing it in your heart and gut, not just your head; it means creating your change story. Being prepared means planning the journey once you know the destination. It will most likely be long, and arduous. While you can plan some things, other things cannot be anticipated. How will you know that you are making progress? What milestones will you be looking for? Being prepared means doing what is required mentally, spiritually, and physically so that you can face the challenges–expected and unexpected–that you will face. It means doing whatever you can to lighten your burden as you step out on the road. Being prepared means having the belief in yourself–and in those people and things that will anchor you on your journey–so that you have the courage to take that first step, and then the next, and the next, without turning back.

Every change, whether it be individual, family, organizational, or societal, requires different preparations. Yet if you know the patterns that lie beneath those change journeys they are remarkably consistent. Being prepared means learning the patterns, and how to navigate them.

What do you do to prepare for change? What advice would you give others? Comment below.


“The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be.”


318px-1953_Bowman_Yogi_BerraIf you guessed Yogi Berra, you are right.

With Yogi’s death, his aphorisms are echoing once again. And rightly so. In many ways, Yogi was as insightful about the human condition as he was about baseball, if not more so.

As I was sitting down to write this post, I received an email from a colleague that contain several of Yogi’s pronouncements relative to our field of practice…successfully executing large scale change. This one–The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be–struck me as the one that I want to reflect on today.

At one level, it’s easy enough to agree with Yogi…and, so what? Things change. That’s the nature of time, and of life. At one time, an area code would tell you the location of the caller. (Some of us remember when “Diamond” and “Murray Hill” and “Hubbard” were exchanges that preceded five-digit phone numbers.) When you got a job, you kept the job. More often than not, you retired from the company that gave you your first job. You got married, had a family, stayed married. You were in the closet–perhaps deep in the closet–and you stayed in the closet.

The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be.

Today, an area code is more likely to tell you where the caller bought the cell phone than his or her current location. People don’t just change jobs and companies, they change career paths completely. (While pundits don’t agree on how many careers today’s new hires can expect, there is no evidence to suggest a new cycle of “career stability.”) Marriage, children, divorce, re-marriage, single parenting, and blended families are all increasingly threads in our social fabric. Coming out is now a multi-generational reality for children, teens, parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents.

Whether we are looking at our personal lives, our lives in organizations, or our lives within the greater society, Yogi’s message resonates. The future that our grandparents envisioned for us and for our parents is not the future we are living. The future our parents envisioned for us is not the future we are living. And, it is unlikely the future we once envisioned for ourselves is fully alive in our experiences today.

As I have written before, the volume, momentum, and complexity of change all continue to accelerate. We can selectively (and even collectively) try to wall ourselves off from it, but that creates its own set of stresses and conflicts as the world becomes more and more alien to us. That’s also a future that isn’t the future once foreseen.

Listen to Yogi as you create your change story. Listen to Yogi as you plan your change. Listen to Yogi as you prepare for the change journey. Listen to Yogi as you take that journey. And listen to Yogi as you live your new reality.

Whether your change is personal, organizational, or societal, you need to have a clear, crisp, easily communicated (and measurable) vision of the future you are trying to create; and, you need to know that the unexpected may require you to re-form that vision as you move forward.

You have to plan for all of the shifts in thinking and behavior that your change will require; you also need to be prepared to revise your planning as forces in the environment affect where you are going and/or how best to get there.

As you prepare for your change, brace yourself for the reality that there will be surprises, that the future won’t be what you anticipate it to be right now.

Moving through the change, don’t become so focused on executing the plan that you fail to look up, or look up to only see those things that reassure you. Because the environment is changing, because the unanticipated is inevitable in major change, you have to remain attuned or it is likely that you will be derailed along the way.

Yogi is right; the future you will be living when your change is complete will be a different reality than you set out to create. The paradox is, if you understand that before you start the journey, if you apply that reality along the way, it will still be a future that you have called forth. To ignore Yogi on this one is perilous at best.

(Image from the public domain, credited to Bowman Gum, 1953.

With thanks to Dave Martin for reminding me of Yogi’s wisdom.)

What is your reaction to this Yogi’ism? What others of Yogi Berra’s quotes resonate with you in the context of successfully executing personal, organizational, and/or societal change? Comment below.

What’s Your “Plan B”?


iStock_000009613557SmallHow many times have you heard that question? For me, I am sure the answer is “in the hundreds.” It began as a young boy who wanted to become an architect. And, it has come back any number of times since then in both personal and professional situations.

What’s your Plan B? 

I have now wrestled with this question and the best way to answer it for more than four decades. For me, the wrestle isn’t about “what” my Plan B is, but whether I should have one; for my clients, the wrestle is whether I should recommend that they have one.

Why wouldn’t I have–or recommend–a Plan B? Here is my reasoning. I will illustrate it with my own circuitous career path.

In fourth grade I discovered graph paper. How cool! I could draw rooms, design buildings. Suddenly my perspective went from logic and words (I was good on lined paper, but not an artist) to more creative visual thinking. Architecture became a passion that stayed with my through high school. I had a drawing board mounted under the window in my bedroom, and would spend hours lost in designing. I took mechanical drawing every semester, advancing my skills. The money I earned after school went into buying drafting supplies and books on famous architects. On career day I would visit la local architectural office. I entered competitions. When the time came for college I applied to three architecture schools, and was accepted to one. I had no Plan B. Being an architect was the one career that, in my heart, I wanted to spend my life pursuing.

As it turned out, by my junior year of college I had lost that passion. I no longer wanted to be an architect. I could probably succeed and make a living at it, and I knew that if I did, I wouldn’t feel very good about myself or my work. But by then, I had developed another passion… I was doing youth work on the Onondaga Indian Reservation, and had become very interested in Native American cultures. My new major became cultural anthropology. (“But what are you going to do with that? What”s your Plan B?”)  I continued into grad school with the same focus, thinking I would love to teach anthropology at a college or university.

Midway through the first semester of grad school I received my draft notice. The next four years were spent as an Air Force Basic Military Training Instructor (“drill sergeant”) and earning two masters degrees. My passion for Native American studies morphed to larger issues of social justice, and my focus on higher education shifted from the classroom to administration.

Eight years of various higher education positions led to four years of consulting to higher education and nonprofits. It was during this time as a consultant that I was introduced to the nascent field of change management, and realized that underneath every career shift was a commitment to executing change.

By 1990, AIDS was a growing crisis in America; I became the Deputy Director of Finance and Operations at an AIDS organization providing permanent housing and support services to homeless people with AIDS. They needed to put in place an infrastructure that would help ensure their long-term viability without becoming bureaucratic, and I knew how to do that.

And so the path has twisted and turned, even to today. The thread has always been change. It has taken me inside of organizations, and outside. I have worked independently, and on teams. I have been a residence hall director, a fund raiser, an internal (as well as external) change consultant, a coach, a trainer, a mentor, a trusted adviser.

And, I have never had a Plan B.

I have spent time exploring options. But those explorations have always been just that…where am I being pulled to go next?

Perhaps if I had a Plan B when I made some of these transitions, I would have made them more quickly. But for me, the only way to have a Plan B is to say, “I am good with doing either A or B.” And, if that is the case, then I would not be able to fully invest myself in either one. If Plan A failed (and some of them have), I would never know whether–had I been more fully committed–I could have made it work. And, given that we go into big changes in our lives naive about the difficulties that will inevitably arise, it would be too easy to walk away from the realities of Plan A to begin the uninformed optimism of Plan B.

Big changes are tough. There is no guarantee of success. That is why I always begin, for myself, with an exploration of what is in my heart…what is my passion? That is why I always urge the same reflection for both personal and professional clients. If you are not passionate about the intent of your change, how will you ever complete the journey? I have been laid off, fired, and had a nonprofit that I attempted to start fail to get the funding that it needed; in each case, I can say that I put everything that I had into success.

I have also had incredible successes. I have turned around a stagnant annual giving program, established a living learning program, and supported major strategic shifts that make a difference in people’s lives both within the corporate and the nonprofit worlds. I have continued to engage in issues of social justice. I have helped individuals successfully navigate some of the most difficult personal life-changing events one could imagine. I have taught, coached, and mentored students, change practitioners, and organizational leaders. Along the way, the changes that I have been engaged in have touched tens–if not hundreds–of thousands of lives. And I still have no Plan B.

When my clients ask me if they should have a Plan B, I tell them quite honestly that I can’t answer the question for them. I help them to understand the reasons I do not. I point out how uncertain a Plan A tough change is, and the fact that there is no such thing as “this change cannot fail;” every change can fail. I help them understand the reality of a difficult change journey. And, I assist them in determining whether developing a Plan B is right for them.

Sometimes, when the realities of change sink in they revert to an immediate Plan B…and don’t proceed with the change. Sometimes, they develop a Plan B (which they may or may not ever call on). And sometimes, like me, they dive headfirst into Plan A and leave the idea of creating a Plan B behind.

How do you answer this question for yourself? Do you have a Plan B? Do you recommend that others do? What am I not seeing that would make it an easier one to answer, or is it really as personal a decision as I make it out to be? Please comment below.