Ready? Your Next Big Change Is Coming!


iStock_000007574711verySmallI almost titled this post Death, Taxes, and Change. When Ben Franklin wrote that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain but death and taxes,” change generally came at a more leisurely pace. There were respites in between. The changes were for the most part far less complex. Though it might not have seemed so for those who were experiencing the changes back then, those were “the good old days.”

For you and me, a year or two from now (or perhaps sooner), today will be “the good old days.” There is another big change heading your way. It may be of your making, or not. It may be on your radar, or not. It may be business-related, or personal, or driven at the societal level. It’s unlikely that it will be the last.

Who knows what it will be. Who knows when it will get here. Who knows how it will disrupt your world, your worldview, your experience of life, of work, of… Who knows what its impact will be.

Get ready.

But how do you get ready for what is coming your way when you don’t know what it is?

That is one of the things that I love about change. As unknown as the change might be, how you respond to it is predictable. How I respond to it is predictable. How those around us respond to it is predictable. As I have written before, it doesn’t matter what the change is; it doesn’t matter where the change is; there are underlying patterns in the human response to change. Some of those patterns lead to success; others lead to failure.

The first thing you do to get ready is to learn those patterns. The good news is that in over four decades of this work, and close to three decades of intentionally learning the patterns, I have never had to “unlearn” any of them. Our understanding gets deeper, and broader. New patterns continue to emerge as we continue to research and experience change. But, even a fundamental understanding of the patterns is better than approaching each change like it is unique. Whatever that next change is that is heading your way, having an understanding of the human response patterns will stand you in good stead.

Next, ensure that those around you know the patterns.Those with whom you work should know them. Those to whom you report should know them. Those who report to you should know them.

But don’t stop there. your family, friends, and others in your communities should have an understanding of them. I am personally beginning to think about how to advocate for “change education” in school curricula. Perhaps your child is her high school valedictorian. She heads off to the Ivy League and suddenly finds herself in the middle of the pack…and unprepared for the change in status she experiences. Or, she is a state All Star in her sport and heads to college on an athletic scholarship only to sustain an injury that ends her ability to compete. Wouldn’t it be great if she knew how to navigate this difficult change journey, instead of being surprised and caught off guard by it? Our children, our families, our friends…none are immune to the disruption of change. Shouldn’t we all lessen the disruption by knowing what that experience will be like, and learning how to successfully navigate it?

Consciously develop your change skills. Understanding is necessary, but not sufficient. You understand that resistance is inevitable, even when people perceive a change as positive…but how do you respond to it? You understand that there is a difference between installing the components of a change and realizing its promised benefits…but how do you deliver realization? You understand that there is a replicable process for building commitment…but are you prepared to adhere to it?

Know that you will not succeed without courage and discipline. If big change were easy, everyone would be making it happen. They aren’t. Whether professional or personal, most big changes just don’t deliver what they have promised. The reasons are both simple to state, and challenging to address. First, those responsible for success don’t understand the underlying patterns. Second, even if they do, they don’t approach the change with the courage and the discipline necessary to do what is necessary, without exception, every time.

Learning the patterns of change doesn’t make you immune to the disruption change will cause in your life. By definition, that is what change does. However, it does decrease the level of that disruption by helping you know what to expect in terms of your own response and the response of others. And, it increases the odds that you will move through the change successfully.

What are you doing to prepare yourself and those around you for the next big change? Comment below.

Sometimes Change Management Just Isn’t Enough.


iStock_000002098320XSmallSometimes when I post a blog I hear from people who wonder why I am addressing a particular topic. They’ll say that it’s interesting, or that they’d never really thought about it before. Then, in one way or another, they will note that what I have written “isn’t really change management.” And, they are right. The truth is that as a change mentor, it is change, not change management, that is at the core of what I do, and at the soul of my blog. Both change management and its much younger but more powerful sibling strategy execution guide my work.

I began in the early days of change management. Back then, I knew that I was excited by supporting the successful execution of change.

One of the first “big changes” I was involved in was the implementation of MBO (Management By Objectives) in the Department of Residential Life at Syracuse University. I was a residence hall director, and had been hired to establish a living learning center. The idea of concrete, measurable objectives was not foreign to me. (I was fresh out of serving four years as a Basic Military Training Instructor–“drill sergeant”–in the Air Force. But, for many of my peers it required a totally different mindset about what was expected of them. We got through it, and life settled down again.

That’s how it was back then. There were periodic big changes..but then there was time to settle into the new whatever, and be free of disruptive change for a while.

This “history” is important, because this was the same time as the nascent field of change management was emerging. Daryl Conner, my mentor, began his work in 1974. William Bridges (“Managing Transitions”) started at the same time. Other early pioneers in the field began to make  this the focus of their work within a few years one way or another.

Over time, other management trends took hold (or didn’t). Theory Z; Management by Wandering Around; Matrix Management; TQM (Total Quality Management); BPR (Business Process Re-engineering); Empowerment; 360-degree feedback; Six Sigma… these were some of the “what’s changing” that provided the organizational laboratories for observing the underlying patterns of the human response to change.

For me, it was more than a decade after my MBO experience that I met Daryl. By then I had moved on to re-launch a moribund annual giving program; to successfully implement a major university’s first travel policy during the period of airline deregulation; and to redesign core processes for a university engaged in refocusing its mission. I had supported more than one college/university merger, and the recommendation that another merger not take place based on desired vs. probable outcome.

While there was more than good intuition and occasional good luck at work with these change projects, until 1988 it was not clear to me that there was a science to this thing called change.

There is. The science of change management has taken root, grown, and matured in the last four-plus decades. (As discussed in an earlier post, more advanced practitioners have learned that there is also an art to this work.) There are professional associations. The Association of Change Management Professionals had its inaugural conference in 2011. The Project Management Institute (PMI), long recognized as the leading authority on project management, has begun to develop its own change management protocol. And, more and more, larger organizations are developing internal change management practices, either licensing a change management methodology or developing one of their own.

Jump forward to 2015. Some of the changes we face are of the MBO, Six Sigma, Managing by Wandering Around variety. But, more and more, the changes we face (whether in our organizations or in our personal lives) are significantly more challenging. There are no clear answers, or many clear answers. They are going to significantly disrupt a substantial number of lives; shift the politics of power and interaction; and bring us face to face with highly difficult and totally unfamiliar challenges.

We (personally, organizationally, or in combination) may be facing more than one such change at a time. At the same time, less disruptive changes keep coming. We’ve stopped predicting that “the next big thing” will lead to a slowdown, an easier life; we now know that “the next big thing” leads to “the next even bigger thing.”

All of which leads me back to the title of this post, “Sometimes Change Management Just Isn’t Enough.” We need every bit of knowledge that we have about change management today. And, we need to continue to deepen that knowledge. it is all essential to not just survive, but to thrive, in today’s turbulent change environment. But in most organizations in most industries, change management, while necessary, isn’t sufficient.

Over the last decade, the next generation approach to change has begun to emerge. While rooted in the same understanding of human behavior during change that is the foundation for change management, strategy execution goes both deeper and more broad than change management. It is intended to support the success of the most difficult, most disruptive changes. (For more on this, see the post “Don’t Ask How Big the Change Is…”)

You need more than a sound strategy to succeed; you need sound execution. Sometimes change management is enough to get you there…but sometimes it is not.

Whether your change is personal or organizational, make sure that you are approaching it from the necessary perspective. Tailor your approach to the change. You don’t need strategy execution, or even a very sophisticated approach to change management, for every change you face.But sometimes it requires more than even a very sophisticated change management methodology. Sometimes you need strategy execution.

What changes have you faced that have been more difficult that your approach to change management could address?


Your Change Leadership Through Their Eyes…


iStock_000003340860XSmallHow important is the change to you? How invested are you in its success? What price are you willing to pay?

If you are leading change at any level of your organization (or in your personal life), then ask yourself this question. How do others see me in relation to this change? 

Several years ago I was working with a global consumer services firm. The lead change agent Peggy and I had been busy day and night preparing for the roll-out to their leadership team. Everyone was gathering at a prestigious country club for the big event. We had met several times with the COO, helping him prepare for the announcement he would be making, the questions that would follow, and the work he would have to be doing in the weeks to come.

The morning of the announcement Peggy and I had visited all of the post-announcement breakout rooms to be sure they were ready. We were heading back to the main hall for the scheduled 9:00 AM announcement when we ran into the COO. He was heading toward the front door, golf clubs over his shoulder. On seeing us he paused long enough to say, Peggy, you know what to tell them. And be sure to tell them how important this change is to me. I really was planning on telling them myself, but 9:00 was the only tee-time I could get. 

The change was dead on arrival.

What you communicate and how you communicate it are critical to change success. And as is so often the case, “actions speak louder than words.” Perception is reality.

Take a look at yourself through their eyes…

Where are you investing your time? 

Carefully review your calendar; your meeting agendas; the conversations you have in the hallways, the cafeteria, the rest room. How much of your time is the change taking up?

If it is a big change, one that is important to the future of the organization, the answer better be, “It is getting a substantial amount of my time.” There is no formula for how much time that should be. But if you are not visibly investing your time and attention in the change, you are signaling others it isn’t really as important as you say it is.

What is being celebrated?

Imagine this… (I’ve seen it. You probably have seen the same or something similar.)

It has become clear that the silo-based approach to customer service is putting the future of the business at risk. Customer satisfaction and retention have both experienced precipitous declines. While there are individual performers who are “stars” in their own areas of expertise, too often the ball gets dropped as customers are passed from one department to another. And, when they pick themselves up, they turn to one of your competitors and leave you behind.

Plans are in place; big changes are being made. The organization is moving forward with its shift from a culture of individual performance to one of team performance. Then at the annual holiday celebration the CEO steps up to the microphone to announce “Employee of the Year.”

Ummmmm… If you are celebrating what was important, rather than what will be important in the success of the change, you are undermining what the change is intended to achieve. If this is your change, you need to be celebrating not employee of the year or even team leader of the year…but team of the year.

What is being measured?

This has been addressed in earlier blogs, but it is worth repeating here. There is a difference between installing the components of a change and actually achieving its full benefits.

Are you measuring change progress in terms of time and expense vs. plan? Yes, those are important. But if you aren’t measuring results, you won’t get them for very long if at all. Installation is necessary, but not sufficient, to yield realization of the change benefits. You need to plan for both, track both, and hold people accountable to both.

How much real listening is going on?

It is vital that you regularly check in to see how your messages are being received. your messaging has to continue to adjust to what people are hearing and believing.

Are there structured environments for listening, interactive blogs, etc? Are you and others who are key to the change listening as much as you are speaking? If not, the tendency will be to send out pre-planned messages “on schedule,” rather than to communicate what people need to hear.

What questions are you asking? 

The questions you ask reflect your priorities. If all (or most) of your questions are about current operations, how much priority will people perceive the change has for you?

What stories are you listening to, and what stories are you telling?

Stories are powerful. Are your stories about “the good old days” of the business? Or are they about the future that you are building together? Are you content to sit and listen to stories about the way things used to be? Or, are you asking others to tell you stories about the journey into the future? if the organization is purpose-driven, are you listening to people tell you all the things that they are doing, or are you asking them to tell stories about living the purpose?

In what ways do you intentionally cultivate how others perceive your change leadership? What messages have you inadvertently communicated as you have developed your change leadership competency? What other questions do you reflect on when considering how you are perceived as a change leader? Your insights, comments, and discussion are welcomed below.




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.



At the End of Your Change Journey…


iStock_000005289966Small“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”

T.S. Eliot

There is great power in metaphors, analogies, and stories…ways of communicating that move deeply inside of us, rather than just firing neurons in our brains. One of the greatest teachers of this message was Joseph Campbell.

There are several important things that I have learned about change journeys from Campbell over the years; in this post I share a few of those lessons with you.

If you look at the T.S. Eliot quote above, the message is really quite simple… New things come out of the old. Some thing or things have to end for others to begin. Starting a transformational journey, whether at the personal, organizational, or even the societal level, means letting go of something that has served as an anchor in the past. Beginnings can’t happen without endings.

Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey provides a powerfully wise road map to what your transformational journey is (and/or will be) like.

First, it is important to know that there are really two journeys needed if you are to achieve your desired outcomes. There is the outer journey: the new facilities, the new strategy, the new technology, the new processes, the new products, the new comp plan; you get the idea. (At the individual level, it may be the new career choice, the new relationship, the new home, etc.) But, there is also the inner journey: the new way of thinking about customers, or products, or line workers, or peers; the new way of seeing yourself and your role in relation to others; and, there are new ways of behaving as a result of the new ways of thinking.

The hero cannot make the journey successfully to the end without addressing both the inner and the outer.

The next important lesson that Campbell offers is the answer to the question, Who is the hero? 

As someone who has been a change practitioner all of his life, the unfortunate truth is that all too often those in this profession (change agents, mentors, trusted advisers, counselors, therapists, etc.) see ourselves as the heroes. We are not. We are simply the guides. We may do our jobs well, or poorly. We may offer exquisite guidance and profound insights, or we may mislead those who are taking the journey. We may walk alongside them, or serve as Sherpas carrying the weight of guide and counselor, but we are not the heroes. Hopefully, we apply every bit of wisdom we have; we offer the truth even when it is uncomfortable; we support the decisions, even when we disagree; we learn and grow; and we share our deepening wisdom with others so that our profession continues to advance. But, none of that makes us heroes of the change journey.

The heroes are those who make the journey, from the front line to the C-suite.

This is the next lesson that Joseph Campbell offers. The heroes are those who make the journey. Leaders are not heroes because they make the right decisions. They are not heroes because they send others to execute them. They only become heroes when they themselves take the inner and the outer journey. As my mentor Daryl Conner says, “Leaders can’t transform their organizations unless they are willing to transform themselves.”

This means that every change is personal. If the organization is facing conflict or imbalance in the marketplace, but the leadership is not taking it personally, significant change is not going to succeed. If the changes that are being faced are business imperatives and the C-suite is equipped with golden parachutes, be careful. If they are not personally feeling the heat, it is time to bring in new leadership for the change.

Perhaps your change is at the end. You–or you and your organization–are at a new beginning. Joseph Campbell offers up one more lesson to consider.

The ultimate aim of the quest, if one is to return, must be neither release nor ecstasy for oneself, but the wisdom and the power to serve others.

What has been your experience with the Hero’s Journey? What are the most important lessons you have learned. Please share your insights below.

When Is The Change Journey Done?


Most organizations (and many individuals) undertaking major iStock_000011474136Small 2
change end their change journey way too early!


The simple answer is, improper planning. The root cause, however, is a little more complex.

Major changes in our organizations promise some very specific results. We will generate new market share, or penetrate new markets. We will strengthen customer loyalty and retention. We will increase the delivery of our charitable services to a significantly larger percentage of those in need of them. As a foundation, we will ensure the nonprofits we fund obtain the program results they promise when they apply for funding.

In our personal lives, the changes we undertake are often equally significant. We may plan on changing employers, or careers, to provide ourselves and our families a better life. We may choose to relocate for the same reason. We may enter into, or end, a long-term relationship, seeking “happily ever after.”

Whether organizational or personal, the reason these changes all-too-often fail to come to full fruition is that we confuse “installation” with “realization.”

Achieving the types of outcomes that large-scale changes promise is referred to as “realizing the benefits” of the change. It is the promise of realization that underlies the decision to move forward, to invest the necessary resources to make the change happen.

Then, the planning process begins. It may involve organizational design. New technology may be specified, or these days, a move away from local servers to the cloud. New software specs may need to be developed, and training scheduled. Perhaps there are new processes to be established and rolled out.

At the personal level, a similar path is taken; though there may not be a formal “plan,” we call out in our minds (or create a check list) of all the things that need to be put in place.

All too often, this is where we stop…and why our changes don’t deliver on their promises. We plan to install the components of the change, somehow believing that “if we build it, realization will come.” 

Planning cannot stop at installation. Nor should you plan to start working toward realization once installation is completed; doing so is more costly, and less likely to yield success.

Plan for realization from the outset. How do you and other leaders in the organization (or, at the personal level, you and others significant to the success of the change) have to think and act differently in order to achieve realization? How are you going to ensure those changes occur? What do you have to put in place to prepare the organization for the disruption that will occur during the transition? How will you effectively communicate both the “what” and the “how” of the change, the experience of the journey, and life in the future once realization is achieved? What is needed to ensure that the change progresses, that risks are surfaced early and mitigated, and that the integrity of the desired intent is maintained? Do you need to change some of the “foundation elements” that under-gird your organization (or personal life)? This might include things like changing compensation plans, how time is allocated, family budgets, etc.

The change journey isn’t done once the new system goes live, the merger is announced, or the honeymoon is over. A lot of work remains before the benefits can be fully realized. Don’t promise realization, and then fail to plan for it. You, and all those who bought into the promise, will be disappointed in the outcome.

What has been your experience with improper planning? What lessons have you learned? Please share them below.



Stuck happens!iStock_000017594671Small

If your change is big, it is only a matter of time before you’ll be stuck. It may be early on. Or, things may seem to be on track and moving along when suddenly they start going awry. Or, you may be moving toward the finish line when progress just stops, or even begins a backslide.

Stuck happens.

So, if stuck happens, what do you do to get unstuck?

What you shouldn’t do is:

  • Shoot the messenger
  • Panic
  • Start pointing fingers and finding blame

    Begin by finding a quiet place…seriously. When stuck happens, don’t jump into action. At best, you may fix some symptoms.

    Start with some thoughtful reflection. What is it that is telling you that the change is stuck? Is it a feeling? Are there symptoms that you can call out, put your finger on? Are there actual metrics?

    You may want to write them down, white board them, put them on stickies… But don’t jump up and try to fix them. Remember, what you are seeing are symptoms, not the “thing” or “things” that are actually threatening change success.

    What you need to uncover is the root cause. This may require you to look at the symptoms through a variety of lenses. Is it that the intent of the change isn’t clear, and different people are–in fact–working on different versions of the same change? Is it that people are shaking their heads Yes while waiting for the change to go away…they are not truly committed to it? Is it that the change is a really, really good idea, but you and/or others don’t see it as imperative? Is it that people just don’t have the capacity for yet one more change? Is it that they have put all of the things that are needed in place, but haven’t planned for–or worked on–the needed changes in thinking and acting that will actually deliver the benefits of the change?

Ask questions. Dig deeper. If it will help, find someone who is not invested in the success of the change to help you explore the reasons you are stuck.

What you are really digging for are not the behaviors that have brought the change to this point, but the mindsets that are driving those behaviors. 

Stuck is the result of how you and/or others are thinking about the change, and what is being done (or not) as a result of that thinking! If you only work to change the behaviors, you will find yourself stuck again…perhaps even more deeply than you are now.

Once you understand why the change has become stuck, you can figure out a path to getting it back on track. You may need to go back to the beginning, starting with developing greater clarity about the change. (I have seen this be the case, even in Fortune 50 companies.) It may mean that you need to let go of things, or people, that you have been holding onto for many years. it may mean that you need to strengthen the consequences: positive for those who are actively supporting the change, and negative for those who are not. It may mean any number of changes in thinking and action required of you for the change to become unstuck.

Whatever it means, plan it. Then do it.

If the change is really that important, then as difficult as it may be to get unstuck, you are going to have to take the necessary action. Even though the cost of doing so may be high, the cost of not doing so will be even higher.

Stuck happens. Becoming unstuck is up to you.

What have you done when you have found your changes stuck? What has, or hasn’t, worked? Comment below. Thanks!