Who Leaves When the Change Drags On?


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.

How Are You Showing Up?



white room centeredHow did you show up today? What about yesterday? Is there any reason to expect that you will show up any differently tomorrow?

During change, how you show up makes a difference for the journey, and for the outcome. It makes a difference for you. And, it makes a difference for those who are influenced by you–whether formally or informally–along the way.

Super Hero: The super-hero is often a Type-A. He arrives with all of the answers, with the strength to do whatever it takes, and with no time to waste. If there is any emotion, it is generally anger: anger at mistakes others make (he doesn’t make mistakes); anger at things not going according to plan; anger at counsel he doesn’t want to hear.

Super-Heroes may make good protagonists in film and pulp fiction. They do not make good change leaders or facilitators. If you are engaged in a big change, you are not going to be able to anticipate everything; you won’t have all the answers. Others will make mistakes. So will you. Time is well spent in reflection, thoughtful consideration, and serious dialogue, not constantly racing forward. Sometimes the best advice you can get is absolutely what you wish you weren’t hearing. Real change can generate anger. But it also generates laughter, tears, joy, sorrow…the full gamut of emotions comes into play along the way.

Preacher: The preacher sees the change as affecting the rank-and-file. “You have to change,” she extols every chance she gets. “This isn’t going to work unless you get on board.” “We need you going all out to make the needed changes on time and within budget.”

People listen to preachers. Then, sometimes, they ask questions. They ask, “Don’t you have to change too, Preacher?” They ask, “Is this, ‘Do as I say, not as I do’?”  They ask, “Why does all the change roll downhill?” Big change isn’t just about everyone else. If it’s your change, it has to start with you.

Lackadaisical Leader: She’s sent out the word. This change is really big. It is really important. It is “make or break.” We all need to take it seriously. We all need to keep it at the forefront of our thinking, and our doing. Yes, we have to keep doing what we have been doing. And, we have to do whatever this change demands as well. There is no way around it.

Then she returns to running the business. “People will tell me if there’s a problem,” she thinks. “I get my weekly/bi-weekly/monthly updates; if an emergency pops up in-between, I’m sure I will know about it right away.”

If this change is genuinely important, act that way. Ask questions every time you see someone who is working on executing it. Make it a priority on every phone call, in every email, and on each meeting’s agenda. Know what is going on.

Teammate: He wants everyone to feel like they are part of the decisions, not just part of the execution. He huddles for hours, listening, exploring, questioning, waiting for a decision to emerge. When it doesn’t, he schedules the next huddle.

There is a role for the team in the change. And, there is a role for the leader. As a change leader, you need to listen, explore, and question. You need to seek out the counsel of the best and the brightest. And, you need to lead. You need to make tough decisions. You need to move the change forward.

Charismatic: People will follow her to the ends of the earth. She has that undefinable characteristic about her that draws people in and holds them there. She can lead them to a spectacular success, or to a devastating failure; they’ll follow her anywhere.

Unfortunately, that’s not what you need. Yes, you want people to follow your lead. But you don’t want them to do so blindly. You want them to question, to challenge, to voice their concerns so that you can address them. You want them to point out when you are about to make (or have made) a wrong turn. You want them committed first and foremost to the future, to the successful execution of the change, not to you.

Clearly, there are other ways to show up during change. Some will contribute to a successful journey; some will not. Here are some ways you might consider as you think about how you show up.

  • Courageous
  • Disciplined
  • Focused
  • Committed
  • Reflective
  • Engaged
  • Empathetic
  • In touch
  • Decisive
  • Positive
  • Equanimous
  • Passionate

    What other ways might you consider showing up? Add your thoughts below.



Resilience Is Critical When Facing Challenge.


This is a personal story.

In 2009 I began mentoring a high school student. The initial connection was our shared interest in photography, but a large part of the mentoring grew out of the abuse Brandon was experiencing at home, and the assaults he, as a gay man, was suffering at school. Two years later I took him in when his family threw him out of his home. Today Brandon is my son, legally as well as emotionally.

This week we were interviewed by Dr. Linda Hoopes on her program, Resilience Radio. Listen to our story, and the role that resilience played, using the link below.

Resilience Radio Interview with Dr. Linda Hoopes

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.





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?

How Bad Does It Hurt?


iStock_000012599356_SmallMore often than not, change-based conversations focus on how rosy the future will be. The bigger the change, the rosier the future seems to be portrayed.

There is very little talk about how difficult the journey will be; the obstacles to be faced; the challenges to be overcome; perhaps, quite literally, the tears to be shed.

The expectation is that the hope offered by the future will be enough to propel you into the change and through to that ideal future state.

It won’t. Hope isn’t enough.

In the past we’ve talked about “uninformed optimism,” the honeymoon phase of big changes that we see in a positive light. And, we’ve described the “informed pessimism” that inevitably follows as the obstacles, challenges, and unexpected difficulties arise. While hope may be enough to get you to this point in the journey, it won’t carry you through… This is when people begin to check out.

Sometimes checking out is public. It may take the form of walking off the job, or calling off the wedding, or announcing a return to “the way it was before.”

Sometimes checking out is more private. People retire on the job. They have affairs. They “go through the motions” without ever investing enough time, energy, etc. to make meaningful progress.

The hope of a better future is necessary, but it isn’t enough to propel us through major change. There also needs to be pain associated with the present. The bigger the change, the deeper that pain needs to be.


Quite simply put, if where we are is comfortable, it’s hard to leave. And if the journey gets really difficult, it’s too easy to come back.

Comfort doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. In fact, it may be far from it. We have all heard stories–perhaps know someone or have even lived it ourselves–of an abused person remaining in the relationship, or leaving the relationship, only to return. For her, or him, the uncertainty of the transition is more uncomfortable than the certainty of the abuse.

If the change you are facing is personal, what is your pain?

If the change is organizational, and you are responsible for some part of its execution (or maybe even the entire thing), what is your pain? If you are nearing retirement and have a golden parachute (or even a good retirement nest egg), your commitment may be very different than if your next promotion (or continued mid-career employment) rests on the success of the change.

It doesn’t matter if the change is being driven by a problem or an opportunity; it doesn’t matter if it is the current state or the future that is driving it.

What matters is how badly failing will hurt. 

Identify that pain. Sit with it. Know it. Envision what it will be like to live with it. if you decide you can live with it, even if uncomfortable, then my best counsel is, don’t proceed with a really big change. You may begin it, but it is unlikely you will carry it through.

If others are taking the journey with you, whether family, friends, or co-workers, they, too, will need to feel the pain. It may be felt differently for each one; that’s okay. But, each person on the journey has to feel the need to leave the status quo, and to know that the price of going back is too high.

If the change is big and success is not imperative, it is unlikely that true success will be achieved.

What is your experience of pain and change? Have you moved forward with the execution of a good idea only to turn back? Share your story.

Where Are Your Boundaries?


iStock_000007069075SmallOne of two things often happens when we become deeply engaged in a change. We develop impermeable boundaries that can end up shutting out those whose support we need most; or we feel guilty for the time and other investments we are making in the change, and we end up with Swiss cheese for boundaries.

Both options put the change at high risk for failure.

Let’s look at the risks associated with establishing boundaries that are too restrictive.

First and foremost, really big changes are not solo expeditions. (Even if your change is about you going on a solo expedition, you will need incredible support in your preparation; it will be important to know that support is there while you are on the journey; and you will welcome the support on your return.) Boundaries that shut people out–make them feel devalued–lessen the likelihood that they will build commitment to the change.

Enrolling people in support of the change requires ongoing dialogue; if the only time that dialogue can occur is when you “let people in,” it is unlikely that the dialogue will be meaningful. And, it is unlikely that they will be deeply enrolled in supporting your change.

If your change is a big one, you most likely have neither the understanding nor the skills to pull it off alone. You need the candid advice of others. Making it difficult for them to give that advice makes it less likely that they will bother trying.

If you set your boundaries too loosely, you will never reach your destination. There will be clamors for your attention–and energy–from every direction. Those who don’t want you to go forward with the change will seek to make their arguments heard at every opportunity. Those who want changes to the change, or the way it is being implemented, will plead their cause again and again and again. And then there are those who call on you for the myriad reasons in your life other than this change. Just because the change is a major one in your life, it doesn’t mean that they will stop their demands for your time and attention around other matters.

Even if you don’t always yield to the demand, the effort required to turn away is effort taken from your change. The energy required to sift through the cacophony is energy down the drain.

Exhaustion, frustration, and lack of momentum are all likely results of a  set of boundaries that is too loose.

When it comes to setting boundaries as you move into and through your change, the Goldilocks principle applies: not too hard, not too soft, you need to find the balance that is just right.

What this really means is that your boundaries will shift from time to time. There may be points along the way where you need to “go off the grid” in order to reflect, or write, or make tough decisions.

There may be people whose relationship to you needs to change (remember my blog Anchors, Aweigh); a significant part of shifting those relationships is the redefinition of the boundaries between you.

You may need to open the boundaries to people, and to ideas, that are foreign to you, but that are capable of informing your change if you let them in.

There is no science to setting boundaries during your change. But that doesn’t mean it should occur haphazardly. Think it through. Plan it. Test it. Adjust it. Fine tune it. Remain aware of your boundaries, of how they are supporting your change efforts, and how they are undermining you.

What have you learned about boundaries in your change journeys? Share your lessons with others.