Don’t Ask How Big the Change Is…


iStock_000011679595Small low posterAsk “How tough will it be to succeed?”

All too often, the needed investment for a change is measured by its cost. But the only way cost measures into success and failure has to do with whether you are investing the necessary financial resources. You can invest thousands (or, depending on the size of your organization, hundreds of thousands or millions) on a software upgrade that is invisible to everyone. This may be a big expense; it is not a big change. On the other hand, you might make a shift in work hours that costs little to the organization financially, yet fails to ever deliver the anticipated benefits.

How tough is the change? 

That is the important question.

Not all change is created equal. The tougher the change, the more time you and others will have to invest in its success, and the less likely you will be successful. More often than not, really tough changes don’t actually deliver what they promise. Beating the odds is not only personally rewarding; it makes for a great competitive advantage.

So, what makes a change tough? We are going to look at three things. 1) How disruptive is the change? 2) How important is the change? 3) What determines success?

  1. How disruptive is the change? 

Why is this important? The more disruptive it is, the more physical, emotional, and psychological energy it will require; the more attention it will take away from the day-to-day; the more the change will affect quality, productivity, and safety.

What makes a change disruptive? One of the things that I always want to determine is how invested people are in the status quo. If that investment is minimal, the disruption will be less than if the change is going to significantly alter “how things are around here.” It is important to remember, it isn’t whether or not people like “how things are,” it’s about how easy–or difficult–it will be for them to let go.

The greater the number of people affected by the change, the more disruptive it becomes. In a family situation, a change that rocks (or destroys) a long-standing status quo is highly disruptive. From an organizational perspective, a change that rocks (or destroys) a long-standing practice–but only affects a small unit–is a small change. (NOTE: It is important to keep in mind that some changes that are small to the organization may be incredibly large to some individuals within the organization. Being sensitive to those who are significantly disrupted by a change is always a good practice.)

Another thing to determine is how the disruption will affect: a) what people do and how they do it; and b) how people think about themselves, the organization, and what they are doing. The most disruptive changes require shifts in both thinking and doing.

2. How important is the change?

Not very? No big deal? That’s easy. If it starts getting tough, just drop it.

It’s a matter of life and death? There’s no future if the change doesn’t succeed? That makes it tougher. Regardless of other demands, obstacles, distractions, doubts; despite anything and everything that might come at you…you have to keep going.

3. What determines success? 

Growing up, I remember the phrase “keeping up with the Jonses.” Believe it or not, organizations are susceptible to the same behavior; they invest incredible amounts of money, energy, employee good will, time, productivity, product quality, and leadership credibility trying to “keep up with the (competitor) Jonses.” If you don’t believe me, ask Dilbert; he hammers this point home on a regular basis.

If the outcome you want is to keep up appearances, your change is going to be a lot less tough than if you actually want to get results.

  • Install the hardware and software, and train people on it. Done.
  • Publish the new procedures and train people on them. Done
  • Collapse job classifications; delayer the organization. Done.
  • BPR, done. Six Sigma, done. Teamwork, done.

Keeping up with the Jonses…

If you’re going for results, not so fast… Training might be all that is required if it is a Microsoft Office upgrade. If it is ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software, it’s a whole other story. You need to shift how people think about information, who owns it, who controls it, where it resides; you are shifting the power and the politics of the organization. You are making changes that will rattle people’s sense of self-worth, of value to the organization, of what they do and how they do it. You have a tough change on your hands!

The same can be said with any organizational change. And, the same is true with personal change. If it is outcome, and not just appearance, that is important, the change becomes tougher.

Why is it important to look at how tough the change is?

If it is really disruptive and difficult to achieve success, but not all that important…maybe it’s not worth doing.

If it’s really important, but otherwise not very tough, keep an eye on it but don’t micro-manage it (unless that’s in your job description).

If it measures high on each of the toughness scales (there are metrics for them), then you need to spend time preparing yourself and others for the road ahead. You need to be prepared to focus your time and attention on the change. You have to figure out how to get your best people engaged in ensuring its success. You need to respect it–and respond to it–as the big deal that it is.

Do you have a story about under- or over-estimating the toughness of a change? What lessons have you learned about executing tough changes? Comment below.



Things Are Changing. Be Happy.


iStock_000005250604SmallChange. It’s supposed to make us happy, isn’t it?

At least, it’s sometimes supposed to make us happy, isn’t it?

The truth is, we are happiest when we know what to expect, when we have some sense of control about our lives and what is happening in them. When we are in the midst of change, that is taken away.

Yes, we are often happy going into change. But, as we’ve discussed before (I Like This Change. It Will Easily Succeed.), that positive perception is often driven by naivete about what is actually required to succeed with the change.

And, we are often happy coming out of the change. We have reclaimed control (whether direct or indirect), and are achieving the results that we set out for ourselves before we began the journey.

But along the way… Things are changing. Be happy. If the change is big, it just doesn’t work that way. There are moments of happiness. Success with the next step taken, the next milestone achieved. The sense of achievement when major hurdles are overcome, when critical problems are solved.

But, all-in-all, the journey is a difficult one. It can be scary as you venture into the unknown. It can be destabilizing as you let go of anchors that have served you well in the past, but are now holding you back. It can be more challenging than you ever though possible as you are called on to dismantle what you may have spent a career, or a lifetime, creating.

If your change is deeply personal, it can touch what author Thomas Moore and others refer to as the “dark night of the soul.” You may be brought face-to-face with your deepest fears, that which you most dread, thoughts and feelings which you have avoided as long as you’ve thought they might exist.

Along the way, happiness happens. But it is not the norm.

Understand this when you are planning, and journeying through, your own changes. Recognize this when you are guiding others through their change journey. If happiness is the measure of success en route, failure is inevitable. The key during change is not in trying to make people happy, it is helping them succeed despite their discomfort.

What is your experience with happiness during change? Tell your story; share your comments.

When It Comes to Change, There Is No Immunity.


vaccineChange: A Disruption in expectations. You think it’s going to be sunny, and get caught in a rain shower. You plan on retiring from the employer you have been with for twenty years, and find out they are closing their US operations. You are contacted by a recruiter who is asking you to apply for a position that would be a significant promotion.


What you see as a minor change may be significant to me. What I see as a positive change may be a negative change to you.

Change is an inherent part of life. There is no immunity. Whether it is a personal change or work-related, there are an almost infinite number of adjustments that are made just to maintain the status quo. You spend a little more than you had planned on your children’s back-to-school wardrobe, and cut back for a week or two on the grocery bill. Sales are up for the third quarter, and you treat your sales department to an unexpected night on the town. The old service delivery model is not working as well as it used to, but there is another tweak that can be made to help it last a bit longer. Sometimes the changes are that minor, and sometimes they are transformational.


Some people will tell you they avoid change as much as possible. Others will tell you that they embrace change.

I am one of the latter, so let me tell you what that really means to me. I look forward to the challenges of change. I look forward to the lessons that I will learn, the growth that I will experience, in going through my own change or guiding another through change. i look forward to the opportunity of sharing my forty years of change experience with others so that they can learn what I know, and I can continue to learn and grow. 

Let me tell you what else it means. I look forward to change selectively…Not coming at me from every direction, not thrust on me unexpectedly by others. I look forward to enough change to keep me challenged, but not so much change that it overwhelms me. I look forward to change when I am able to balance it with stability and equanimity at the same time.


There is no immunity.

There are, however, inoculations that will help reduce its impact.

First, no matter who initiated the change, don’t allow yourself to be victimized by it. You may not be able to call for the hand to be re-dealt. You can control how you respond to the hand that you get.

Next, learn the patterns of human response to change. Knowing how you and those around you will be responding as you travel through the life cycle of a change gives you back some sense of control. You can be prepared for the response. Perhaps you can even be doing something to accelerate it if doing so will help move the change forward more quickly. Or, you can take steps to mitigate it, if the next step in the pattern (left unaddressed) will disrupt the forward momentum of the change.

As an example of the former, knowing that “experimentation” follows “positive perception” when you are building commitment to a change, you might develop a means for your early adapters to begin to experiment with the new tablets before you roll them out across the organization. As an example of the latter, knowing that resistance is inevitable in the case of major change, and knowing that resistance is driven by either willingness or ability, you may focus early on communicating what will be done to help people develop the skills they will need to succeed with the change.

The third way that you can reduce the disruption of change is to strengthen your own resilience, the resilience of those around you, and–for organizational change–the resilience of those throughout the organization.

Resilience is the ability to re-calibrate to disruptions with minimal impact on your productivity or the quality of the work that you do. In essence, what this means is that the more resilient a person is, the more quickly they can be back to 100%, and the less what they are doing will suffer in the interim.

We will be covering more about resilience in future posts. In the meantime, know that: while each of us starts with a baseline of resilience, there are ways that it can be strengthened; when working with other people, it is possible to build on the resilience strengths that each of you brings; and it is possible to hire for resilience. This is always a good idea, since whatever skills the individual is bringing to the job will most likely become obsolete sooner rather than later; you want people who are able to re-calibrate to your changing needs.

If you want to find out more about resilience before I post on it again, feel free to contact me directly. Also, check out Dr. Linda Hoopes’ radio blog and her website.

What are you doing to help reduce the disruptive impact of change? Comment below. Share your experiences.





Prepare For Your Journey.


iStock_000019172316SmallOne of my favorite authors is Phil Cousineau. In The Art of Pilgrimage he writes, “If you don’t take the time to sit and reflect before you leave, you’ll surely be remembering what you’ve forgotten on the way to the airport or on the plane. By then its too late. This tends to be true for what goes into your bags as well as what goes into your heart about your journey.”

This quote came to mind earlier today as I sat down to categorize my blog posts. There are 40 of them now, so I felt it was time to give them some structure. I have had the framework in mind for some time now: 1) Create Your Change Story; 2) Plan the Journey; 3) Prepare for the Journey; 4) Take the Journey; 5) Return Home. I have not yet written anything on the return home. You can access each of the other four “chapters” using the menu to your left.

I knew when I began to categorize them that some of the posts were likely to fall into two or more categories. While I lift things out to talk about them in each post, they are really interwoven with one another, and often apply across a considerable distance in the change process.

What did catch me a bit off guard–though as I reflect on it is not that surprising–is how many posts are about preparing for the journey. Why is this?

Most of us approach change (personal and organizational) with some understanding of where it is taking us, and a belief that we know what to do do get there. There’s a strategy, a goal, or outcomes of some sort that we are seeking to achieve. And, there’s a plan to execute in order to achieve the desired end result. (In fact, as many of the posts in Create Your Change Story, Plan the Journey, and Take the Journey reveal, we’re not always well prepared in these areas either; but, we tend to think we are.)

Rarely, however, do we focus on fully preparing for the journey itself. We may make physical preparations (e.g. get a passport, purchase tickets, reserve lodging for travel; meet with a career coach, research certification options, register for classes for a career change). But that is not enough. “Being ready mentally, spiritually, and physically makes us lighter on our feet, more adroit at making decisions, and perhaps can even keep chaos at bay,” (Art of Pilgrimage).

Preparing for your journey means more than packing the bags, or selecting a path forward. The change journey itself is a “whole person” experience; no aspect of your being is left untouched by a difficult change. Fail to prepare any aspect of your being, and you are putting success at risk.

And, it’s not enough to prepare yourself for the journey. Those who are making it with you require preparation as well. Knowing where you are going, what the journey will be like, how you will be measuring progress, what is changing and what is not, what role each person will play in the change process, what will be done to help them be successful with the change…all these things and more give people a greater sense of stability and control. Each one contributes to the preparation.

Here are a few of the questions you will need to address. (Guidance on many of these is provided in the Prepare for the Journey section of the blog.)

  • Do you really have to make this change, or is it just a good (maybe really, really good) idea? (post)
  • How bad does it hurt to not make the change? (post)
  • Are you talking with the right people? (not)
  • What needs to change about how you and others think, both to make the journey and to maintain success once it is completed? (within multiple posts)
  • What needs to change about how you and others act, both to make the journey and to maintain success once it is completed? (within multiple posts)
  • What are your anchors, and how will your relationship with them have to change in order for the change to succeed? (post)
  • What do you need to do in order to be prepared for the resistance that will inevitably arise during the change journey? (post)
  • Where are your boundaries? (post)
  • What plateaus will you be visiting along the way, and how will you utilize your time on them? (post)
  • how are you going to maintain your balance? (post)
  • Do you have enough discipline to succeed? If not, what options are there for developing more, or for making the change less demanding? (posts)
  • Do you have the courage the change will require for success? If not, what options are there for developing more, or for making the change less demanding? (post)
  • Who do you need to enlist in the change? How and when will you do that? (post)
  • Are you prepared to effectively utilize both one-way and two-way communication…at the right times, in the right ways, with the right messages? (posts)
  • What are you going to stop and or slow down so that you have everything that is required (time, resources, change adaptation capacity, etc.) to succeed with this change? (post)
  • Who do you need to listen to in order to be successful? (post)
  • Are people–including you–prepared for the catharsis that is an inevitable part of big changes? (post)
  • Are you prepared to commit to outcomes, and not just actions? (post)
  • Do you know when to trust, and when to not trust, your intuition? (post)
  • Are you prepared to make mistakes, own up to and learn from them, and move on with the change?
  • Are you prepared to tell the change story? Is the change story prepared to be told? (posts)
  • And, at every step of the way, are you prepared for what comes next in the change process? 

When you are planning the journey, don’t forget to plan for the preparation. Without it, you may travel somewhere. But it is unlikely you will reach the destination you set out to attain.

What do you do to prepare for difficult change? Share your story.




I Like This Change. It Will Easily Succeed!


Picture101Hopefully you will not be surprised to find out that liking a change and the ease of achieving success are not at all related!

First, let’s clear up some mis-perceptions. There are very few if any changes that are inherently positive. Whether or not a change is positive is–in fact–in the eye of the beholder.

You may see the move to Office 365 as positive; it helps you access your files from multiple devices at any time and in any place. At the same time, I may see it as negative; now I need to subscribe to Office, instead of just paying a one-time licensing fee. If you won a multi-million dollar lottery, you may see it as negative because of all the major disruptions it will cause in your life and your relationships. If I won, I might perceive it as positive because of all the new possibilities it might offer for the work that I want to do in the world.

Today’s blog is not about positive change; it is about positively perceived change.

Next, let me credit the source of the graphic above, as well as my understanding of what I am presenting here. I was first introduced to this concept when I trained with Conner Partners back in the late 1980’s; what I learned then remains a solid set of principles to apply in the 2010’s.

If the change is big, and you perceive it as positive, beware! Every day, whether at work or in our personal lives, tens of thousands of us–perhaps millions–start on changes of this nature. And, every day, tens of thousands of us–perhaps millions–check out of the very changes we enthusiastically embraced days, weeks, months, or even years ago. So what goes wrong?

Perhaps, in specific cases, one could identify “what went wrong.” But, most of the time, the problem is not that anything specific went wrong other than that those going through the change did not understand the pattern underlying it.

So, let me let you in on that pattern.

When we begin a really big change in our life that we perceive as positive, we are beginning it in a state of “uninformed optimism.” In marriage, and often in a new job, this is referred to as  “the honeymoon.” We see everything in a positive light.

It’s a honeymoon because we don’t know what we don’t know.

Uninformed optimism is general. “This is great! I have a new job. I am earning significantly more money. I have a great title. I like the people that I report to, and the ones that report to me. I am a lot closer to the office than I was in my old job.”

BUT… Uninformed optimism is followed by informed pessimism! In big changes–whether they be personal, organizational, or even societal–this is the inevitable reality. We are optimistic because we are going into the change with a significant level of naivete.

As reality hits home, pessimism increases, and it gets pretty specific. “I have a new job…and instead of working 40 hours a week I am working ten hours a day, seven days a week.” “I may be earning significantly more money, but I am paying an incredible price for doing so.” “What’s in a title?” “I liked the people that I report to…until I discovered that they don’t want to hear anything that I have to say.” “The people that report to me smile, and shake their heads yes, and then go and do whatever they want anyway.” “I am closer to the office in distance…but the traffic in this direction makes my commute twice as long.”

What happens as pessimism increases? Enthusiasm wanes. Resistance increases. Doubts arise. The very change that you were so excitedly driving forward (or had eagerly jumped on board to support) becomes questionable. Do you really want to do this? Are you really able to succeed at it? Is it worth the cost?

The most important thing to keep in mind at this point in the cycle is that informed pessimism is not a signal that something is wrong. Rather, it is an inevitable part of the cycle. When you find yourself here you know that in actuality, you are making forward progress!

When people reach this point, checking out is not uncommon; they only real question is whether they will check out publicly or privately. Examples of checking out publicly include such things as filing for divorce, or submitting your resignation. Checking out privately might be entering marriage counseling while carrying on an affair, or closing the office door and spending hours on end surfing the web.

If we haven’t checked out, as circumstances become clearer, pessimism tends to begin to decline. We enter a period of hopeful realism. There are fewer surprises. We can see the obstacles to successfully achieving the desired outcomes of the change, and can see our way around, over, through them. We know that there is still a lot of hard work ahead of us, but are also increasingly confident that the hard work will pay off.

Following Hopeful Realism comes Informed Optimism. At this point we are experiencing real, measurable successes. We still need to work to sustain them. Sometimes–especially if stressed or tired–we might find ourselves slipping back into old ways of thinking or old habits. But when we do, we see it (or others point it out to us), and we bring ourselves back into alignment with the desired end results.

Completion is achieved when you are living in what was once your desired future… It is no longer a dream, or a hope. It is the way things are.

What is your experience with carrying out changes that you perceived as positive? How have you been lulled by the honeymoon of uninformed optimism, or put off-track by the inevitable arrival of informed pessimism? Comment. Share your story.

Do You Really Have To Make This Change?


thin no circleBig change takes a big investment. It requires time, money, physical, emotional, and often spiritual energy. It requires saying “No” to things that are important so that you are able to say yes to the change. It’s risky, and success is never guaranteed.

As we discussed in an earlier post (Anchors, Aweigh!), making a major change requires reexamining the relationship that you have with the various anchors in your life: people, places, things… In some cases you will need to let go of old anchors, and form new ones. You may need to change your relationship with some of your anchors, becoming closer or more distant, more or less intimate, more or less engaged.

Major change requires changes in the way we look at, and think about, things. It requires us to do things differently. Perhaps we need to learn new skills, to engage with other people in different ways, or even to shift the way that we think about–and relate to–our own body.

Big change is tough; it is demanding; it is hard.

Sometimes you don’t have a choice. You’ve been laid off. Your company is relocating. You experience a serious health issue. When change is thrust on you in this way, change is going to happen… Take charge of it.Approach it as a victor, not a victim.

But when you do have a choice, think it over carefully. Talk it over with unbiased others. Ask yourself, Do I really have to make this change? What is the price I will pay if I do not? 

Sometimes, the most important thing I can do for a client is to help her think through a change that she is ready to charge into…and have her realize that doing so is  a good idea, but is not imperative. Sometimes, I help a client come to the answer that, No, I don’t really have to make this change. I am better off not investing in it.

Have you said no to change? What were the circumstances? What was the result? Were there times when you should have said no to a change and didn’t? Share your experience.

Are You Talking With the Right People?


DiscussionIt is great to be supported by the people around you. It feels good to be acknowledged. It’s super to have others tell you that you are right.

When the going gets though, having a tight-knit circle of friends and supporters makes it seem a little easier. But if those are the only people you are talking with as you define, plan, and carry out your change, you are making a big mistake!

One of the realities of how we as human beings approach change is that we have a tendency to “play to our strengths.” One person may conceive of and shape the change incessantly for months on end. Another may plan it out to the most minute detail. Someone else may take the “Fire, Ready, Aim” approach.

One risk of limiting those who advise us to those who think like us and support us without question is that sometimes playing to our strength may be a mistake. Those of us who are creative are often much better at starting things than at bringing them to a successful conclusion. All the planning in the world won’t move you forward; nor is it ever possible to execute a major change “according to plan.” (As the old saying goes, People plan, and the gods laugh.) Nor is jumping into action too quickly the best idea.

Another risk that comes from surrounding yourself with nodding heads is that you will end up with a limited perspective on the circumstances driving the change, as well as the approach to addressing those circumstances. Abraham Maslow put it this way. “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”

When facing a major change, you need more than a hammer in your toolbox. You need counsel from people who see things through a different lens. You need to hear from others who have faced similar situations. You need to listen to those who have attempted this change journey before. Especially listen to those who have failed. Those who were successful may or may not know what contributed to their success; those who failed will have a clear grasp of what went wrong.

Value the perspective of those who are optimistic about your chances of success; they will give you encouragement along the way. Also value those who are pessimistic; they may be pointing out the potholes that you will want to avoid (or to be prepared to address) along the way. Appreciate those who are focused; they can help keep you from being distracted and moving off-course. Those who are proactive may compel you forward; their counterparts may be able to keep you from moving too quickly. Listen to people who can tell you what is just noise, and what is critically important for you to address.

It may only take adding one or two people to your circle to significantly broaden the voices you hear. But, they need to be people whom you trust, people whose thinking can cause you to change your mind, to think and/or act differently.

It may also require that you challenge those who have traditionally supported you, helping them understand that you need both their support and their challenges as well.

In all of your conversations, be clear as to who is making the decisions. Listen with an open mind. Don’t shoot the messengers. Finally, if you are the decision-maker, set the expectation that you want total candor, and that you will carefully weigh the counsel you are receiving. And, be clear that once you have made the decision, you expect their unwavering support.

What has been your experience when seeking counsel about change?