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!



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.



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.





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.




Do You Really Have To Make This Change?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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