Change Isn’t an Intellectual Exercise.


Picture1Well of course not! Who would think that? After all, falling in love, or falling out of love… The loss of a loved one. Moving to a new home, whether across the city or around the world. A new job. A termination. All have an emotional component to them. They may touch the heart, the gut, the head, or any combination of the three.

Of course change isn’t an intellectual exercise. Who would think that?

Too often, we all do. We fail to recognize and honor the cathartic nature of the changes we are facing, or the changes we are driving into our organizations. If we do acknowledge that there is more than an intellectual component, it is generally about “the others going through the change.” Rarely (especially for men), are we honest about our own emotional roller coaster ride.

This post is not about the psychology behind the failure to acknowledge the need for–and allow–catharsis. That’s outside my area of expertise. What I do want to write about is why acknowledging and allowing catharsis–for ourselves as well as others–is so important.

Let’s go back for a moment to the definition of change that underlies all of my work and my writing. Change: a disruption in expectations. If change is a disruption in expectations, the bigger the disruption, the more challenging the change will be to successfully execute.

If I come to work in the morning and the coffee maker isn’t working, it may drive a change in my routine. I expected to have coffee when I sat down at my desk; now I need to run back out, or place an order to have some coffee delivered, or settle for water. Chances are, the disruption is not gong to last long; I may grumble about it at the water cooler, but even that is not likely in most situations.

On the other hand, what if I arrive back from vacation to find someone else’s name on what was my office door, someone else sitting in what was my Executive High-Back Pneumatic Leather Chair? Unless I’ve been promoted, the disruption is profound, and the reaction most likely visceral.

Why is it so important to–appropriately–address all aspects of that reaction? For the same reason that it is so important for organizational leaders to recognize and allow their own cathartic reaction. For the same reason it is so important for each of us to recognize and allow our own cathartic reaction to the major changes we experience.

It doesn’t matter the catalyst of the change…work or personal, or even societal; it doesn’t matter if you see the change as positive or negative. This is one of the incredible, fascinating things about change. It just matters how big the disruption is. The bigger the change, the more critical addressing the cathartic component of it will be.

For some people, the following is useful to help understand this.

Imagine that what you are letting go of is in a room. Now walk out of that room, and close the door behind you, but don’t let go of the doorknob. Are you able to move forward? It doesn’t matter how many new doors are open in front of you. It doesn’t matter what they offer. If you are unable or unwilling to let go–to experience catharsis–you have no chance of moving forward to those new possibilities.

Why is catharsis necessary to let go?

Whether in a healthy or dysfunctional environment, over time we settle into a set of expectations. We establish a relationship with the elements of the environment: the people; the behaviors; perhaps the sounds, the temperature, the smells. We may deeply engage with it, or find a way of being disconnected even when in its midst. We know the patterns, the pace, the rhythm.

Perhaps it is an environment of our own making. A relationship with a significant other, maybe a family. Or an organization that we have “grown up in,” advancing into a position of authority where we have spent decades shaping it into what it is today. We “know the drill;” it has our best insights, experiences, mistakes, and successes embedded in it.

And now it is going to change. Dramatically.

Letting go of any relationship that has these kinds of roots in us is not an intellectual exercise. Is there an intellectual component? Of course. But there is so much more.

The paradox that makes this so hard for business leaders is that they are called on to destroy that which they have created so that it can survive and thrive. “The old paradigm is dead. Long live the new paradigm.” Those who cannot make this transition–truly change the way in which they relate to the past so that they can fully invest themselves in creating the new–will not succeed. Nor will the change they are trying to drive. There is a reason they are called leaders. If they are unable or unwilling to transform themselves, they cannot lead the transformation of their organizations.

It’s no different for personal change. Often in working with clients who are going through a highly disruptive personal change, we will work to create a ritual of letting go. (I have also done this with a few organizational clients.) They find that they need to mourn the past–even if it contains a long and dysfunctional history–in order to embrace the journey into the future.

Often, the bright promise of the future–personal and/or organizational–offers a compelling pull. But we can only move so far toward it without letting go of what is behind us. And, at the end of the day, that letting go is never easy. If we are to truly let it go, there may be a physical component to what we have to release. It may or may not include a spiritual element. And, in that letting go there will always be catharsis.

What is your experience with catharsis and change? Comment on this blog. Share your experiences.





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.

Work Your Plan One Week at a Time.


calendarUndertaking a big change is daunting; it can seem overwhelming. In past blogs we have talked about different aspects of planning. Today the focus is on executing against that plan.

In general, my recommendation is to work your plan one week at a time. (Here I am focusing on change at the individual level…if you are leading your organization through change, much of what I am offering here can be applied–with some translation–as well.)

Momentum is important during change. Move too fast and you may get all of the pieces in place, but never achieve the actual outcomes that you are seeking. Move too slow, and your change is likely to grind to a halt.

Taking a week-by-week approach, with your installation (what you are putting in place) and realization (what you are actually setting out to achieve) milestones in mind helps to maintain momentum. Think about it. In the next month I am going to update my resume doesn’t quite drive action the same way as This week I am going to make 15 networking calls. 

You may or may not have any realization milestones that you plan to meet each week; you should definitely have installation milestones for yourself. Quoting from Wikipedia, “A milestone is one of a series of numbered markers placed along a road or boundary…Milestones are constructed to provide reference points along the road. This can be used to reassure travelers that the proper path is being followed, and to indicate either distance traveled or the remaining distance to a destination.”

Using milestones on a weekly basis allows you to know not only that you are actively doing things, but that you are on “the proper path.”

So why not create milestones for every day?

Generally, unless you are in a position to control virtually every aspect of your day, daily milestones become burdensome; they are too easy to not achieve as other day-to-day things come up; and, the discouragement of not achieving them can drain energy and actually get in the way of forward momentum.

That being said, I will sometimes work with a client to create “buckets of activity,” with the goal of accomplishing something out of each bucket on a daily basis. For example, someone who is looking to build a brand presence using social media might have one bucket for Twitter, one for LinkedIn, one for their business’s Facebook page, etc. Rather than spending every spare minute for a week strengthening their LinkedIn presence–and losing connection with their followers on the other media–my recommendation is to ensure that they do at least one thing out of each of the other buckets every day as well.

Your weekly milestones allow you flexibility over when you undertake your change-related tasks. If today is lost to unexpected overtime at work, or unanticipated disruptions at home (or both), you still have the remainder of the week to complete the work that you have set out for yourself.

What happens if, week after week, you are not meeting your milestones? If you find yourself in this situation, it is likely that one of two things is going on.

  1. You are setting your weekly expectations too aggressively relative to what you are able to deliver. You either need to re-calibrate your expectations of what you can get done in a week, or you need to look at what you can take off the plate so that you can meet your targets. Then, you need to actually take things off the plate!
  2. Your change is a good idea, but not imperative. The other things in your life that are taking your time, energy, focus, etc. away from this change outweigh the importance of the change you are working on. It is time to either lower your expectations for this change, or to put it aside.

If, on the other hand, you are completing everything you have set out to achieve mid-week each week, you should be accelerating your plan.

There is another reason to work your plan one week at a time…things don’t always go as planned. I am currently working with a client whose “buckets” include addressing certain aspects of his health. When he encountered an unanticipated delay in his surgery he had two choices…push his entire plan back by months, or accelerate other aspects of the plan to fill in the intervening weeks. My encouragement is, always, to maintain the forward momentum.

Finally, working your plan one week at a time helps you maintain your boundaries. It tells you when to take a break and rest for the next week; it helps you to avoid burn-out. When the only thing that we have in mind is the desired end state, the urge to be constantly working can drive us in unhealthy ways. Being able to say, I have accomplished what I set out to do this week. I am proud of myself, and can see the progress. And, now I deserve a break, is a much healthier approach.

For a mini-case study of how I applied this approach to a major change in my life, email me at [email protected]

What is your experience when working your change plans? Please comment, and/or add your own story.