Stuck?

Standard

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!

 

 

Who Leaves When the Change Drags On?

Standard

iStock_000008318174SmallAll too often, the answer is, The wrong people keep leaving…the very people who can quickly adapt to the change, and can help you build the momentum that you need for the change to succeed. 

A few years after deregulation of the telephone industry I heard the following story. One of the old-line phone companies had not achieved the change results they were going for. They purportedly told a consulting firm, In the old days we were an elephant. We wanted to become a cheetah in the new marketplace; instead we have become an elephant on Slim Fast.  


Why does this happen?

The answer is quite simple. Change disrupts people’s lives. Drag it on, and they find themselves adrift in that turbulent, uncertain state. Some hope to wait it out. Some flounder. Some fight it. And some–those who are most capable of changing–take control of their own situations. They find jobs elsewhere.

If you are a mission-driven organization, and your most resilient people are aligned with your mission, they may not be quite as quick to “jump ship.” But even then, they will not tolerate the uncertainty forever. They will find another place to serve your mission, or find another mission they are passionate about supporting.

In either case, what you are left with as you continue to pursue your change is a workforce (and, in the case of nonprofits, possibly even a volunteer force) that becomes less and less capable of supporting your change effort.


What can you do about it?

First a disclaimer: your ability to take some of the following actions may be affected by legal and/or contractual constraints.

If the change is really that important, you don’t want it to drag on forever. Transformational changes can sometimes take years to deliver their promised benefits, especially in larger organizations. But even then, people will see an accelerating momentum as positive, and lagging momentum as a sign of potential failure.

So how do you launch the change and move it forward to keep the momentum going, and to keep the people who will help you do so?

  • Be clear about the intent of your change. You need a clear, complete, concise, and compelling expression of that intent.
  • Build leadership understanding, commitment, and alignment around that intent. Your leadership team sets the tone for the organization. If they are working at cross-purposes, or are not demonstrating full support for the change, it cannot move forward effectively.
  • Identify the “keepers.”  Here there are two things that are important to consider. First, who are those who are most resilient, most capable of making the changes that you are pursuing? Second, who are the people that either are now or most likely will be aligned with the new ways of thinking and behaving required by your change initiative?
  • Enlist people in the change: (Follow this link to read my post on enlisting people.) Your “keepers” should be among the early people whom you enlist.
  • Engage people in the change. If change is a disruption in a person’s expectations, then engaging them in it gives them back a sense of control. When engaging people, be clear about the parameters of the engagement. For example, “I am not asking you whether we should make this change. I do want your help in figuring out how we carry it out successfully in your area of the organization.”
  • Keep the change moving forward. Work it!: You don’t become an Olympian by going to the gym twice a week. You don’t succeed at major change by making it a part-time activity. You need to commit your “best and brightest.” You need to make it a focus of your own time, attention, and action as a leader. You need to move it forward as quickly as people can adapt to it. You need to take other things off the plate if they are draining resources (including, but not limited to, time, attention, and adaptation capacity). Don’t wait for consensus; major change doesn’t happen that way. Don’t wait for all the answers; they aren’t there. Don’t expect to get everything right, because you won’t; acknowledge and learn from the mistakes. Don’t expect everyone to get on board, because they won’t; the best thing you can do is to respectfully help those who won’t make the transition get out of the way.

    What has worked for you in keeping the right people on board during highly disruptive change? Comment below.

Change Isn’t an Intellectual Exercise.

Standard

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.

 

 

 

 

When It Comes to Change, There Is No Immunity.

Standard

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.


Change…

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.


Change…

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.


Change…

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.

 

 

 

 

Do You Really Have To Make This Change?

Standard

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.

It’s Your Choice.

Standard

It’s yiStock_000003622913Smallour choice. 

How do I choose?

I don’t have a choice.

When it comes to choice, all too often we approach the situation with a fundamental misperception.

We think “choice” means selecting between good or bad, right or wrong, easy or difficult.

Sometimes it does.

But sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes choice is between bad and bad, between right and right, between difficult and difficult. In the Old Testament we have the story of Abraham being commanded to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. In the more recent past, we have the work of fiction, Sophie’s Choice, in which Sophie is forced to select which of her children is gassed to death in the concentration camp. Choices are not always good, or easy. But, there is still a choice.


Daryl Conner, one of my change mentors, tells the story of Andy Mochan, the Piper Alpha oil rig worker who jumped 150 feet into burning oil in the North Sea after the rig had exploded. When interviewed on Nightline, Andy stated that he had chosen probable death over certain death. Andy made a choice–not an easy one by any stretch of the imagination–and lived to tell his story. 166 of his fellow workers on the rig died.

Daryl uses this story as a metaphor for the resolve that we each need when we are facing difficult changes. In executing your change, it is likely that there will be choices that are easy to make along the way. These are the “god/bad,” “right/wrong” kind. But there will also be antagonizingly difficult choices to be made..ones for which you are ill-prepared, for which you want more time and/or information, ones for which you shudder at the possible consequences of any decision you make. These, too, are choices.


My grandparents taught me how to play Pinochle when I was very young. I have forgotten and re-learned the game more than once over the years. But there is one lesson that I learned back then and have never forgotten.

We don’t get to choose the hand we are dealt. We always have a choice about how we play it.


What is your experience with choice during change?