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.

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.




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.

Track Your Path to Success (Personal Change)


All Hands Picture OnlyHow do you measure success? What are the milestones along the way that let you know that you are–or are not–making progress? In today’s blog I offer some guidance when facing a change that is personally oriented; next week we will look at the same question through the lens of an organizational change.

In What’s Your Story? (Part 2, Guidelines 1-5 for Writing Your Story) I spoke briefly about the distinction between “installation” and “realization.” Let’s briefly revisit those distinctions first. Throughout this post I will use the example of a major career change. You are leaving your financial services career on Wall Street to become an actor; it is a passion that has burned inside you as long as you remember, and you are going to make your dream come true.

Installation is achieved when things are put in place. Installation metrics may include getting accepted to acting school; submitting your resignation; commencing training; completing your training; being selected for your first part; and completing your first acting assignment.

Realization is achieved when the promise of the change is fully delivered. perhaps, for you, realization will be when you feel secure in your ability to support yourself as an actor…no more waiting tables, valet parking cars, or serving hors d’oeuvres at catered parties.

All too often, when we plan a major change for ourselves, we start with the passion that is in our heart as our desired future state, and then we plan as if installation will get us there. Unfortunately, installation only gets us installation; it doesn’t get us realization. Nor can you start thinking about “what else do I need to do” once you have achieved installation. It is important to plan on, and move toward, realization from the outset.

If it is a big change, start by thinking through and listing out all of the major adjustments you are going to have to make not only in what you do, but in how you think. Perhaps while on Wall Street the thinking was “eating out is convenient, and I can afford it.” It may still be just as convenient, but may be much less affordable as you work your way through acting school, auditions, and your early parts as an extra or a member of the chorus. So, not only will you have to change how you spend money, you most likely have to change how you think about money. You will also probably need to make changes in where you live; your wardrobe will most likely be different; how you spend your time–including both working and non-working time–will probably change, as might when you get up and when you go to bed. They call it “major change” for a reason!

What about the people in your life? The colleagues who used to drink martinis with you before dining may be less excited about downing a shot after the final curtain call. The friends who loved getting invited to your beach house may find they have less excitement about a picnic in the park. And the family that worked and sacrificed to help you and your siblings through college so you could have a better life…perhaps they will be less than enamored with your new-found enthusiasm for what they see as a less professional, less lucrative, and less secure career path.

We touched on this briefly in the post Anchors, Aweigh, but it bears repeating here. In planning a major change, you are going to have to consider those around you. What role do they play in your life now? What role do they need to play in the transition? What role will they need to play when you achieve your desired future state? Which ones will be the same, which ones will be different, and which people will you need to end your relationship with in order to succeed?

Once you’ve listed all of the changes in thinking and behavior you can come up with, grab some sticky notes and a pen or pencil. Put each one on a separate piece of paper, and put it up on the wall (or white board, or closet door, or window). You may want to use different colors for mindsets and behaviors, or for different aspects of the change (e.g. leaving the old job; redefining relationships with people).

Now you can begin to group these together. Use your story to help you think this part through.

Let’s go back to your intent. I feel secure in my ability to support myself as an actor! 

Begin by defining your realization indicators. What will make you feel secure? Be specific; be sure it is measurable. You may already have some among the sticky notes you have posted; you might need to develop others.

These may be some of your metrics.

  • I have $X in the bank, of which $Y has been made as an actor.
  • For the past 18 months I have had a positive cash flow, all of it as an actor.
  • I have re-framed my lifestyle so that I am comfortable, in fact feel like I belong, in my one bedroom apartment.
  • I am entertaining family and/or friends at home at least once a month.
  • Etc.

Once you have your realization indicators (on sticky notes on the wall), think through how they might group together. Perhaps you will end up with some that have to do with financial management, others with career development, and others with lifestyle.

Next, position them in a relative sequence. The first two of the bulleted indicators may be targeted for attainment near the end of the change, as you approach full realization. The third one you might decide to position earlier in the process.

Now think through your installation indicators. Again, many of these may come from the sticky notes you have already developed.  What do you have to put in place in order to achieve each of the realization indicators? For example, what will it take for you to move out of your three bedroom and feel comfortable in a one bedroom apartment?

  • I have identified the characteristics of a living space in which I can be comfortable (a more open plan vs. individual rooms, whether a view is needed, etc.).
  • I have pared down my positions so that I have what I can comfortably live with inside the new apartment.
  • I have a plan in place for ensuring that I don’t begin to clutter my space.
  • I have defined the type of neighborhood in which I will be comfortable.
  • I have found, leased, and moved into my new apartment.
  • Etc.

    Look at the sticky notes that you first put on the wall, and that have not become either realization or installation indicators. Ask yourself two questions.

  • Have I identified an indicator that this contributes to achieving?
  • If not, am I missing an indicator, or is this unnecessary?

You should end up with a series of “work streams” made up of installation and realization indicators.

Finally, review your work streams. If you achieve all of the indicators in each of the work streams, will you be able to look at yourself in the mirror and say, I feel secure in my ability to support myself as an actor. 

Keep a record of what you have on the wall. It will change over time. You don’t have all the answers now; you don’t even know all the questions. Things will change around you. So, your indicators will have to change as well. Nonetheless, you are well on your way to planning, and preparing to launch, a very big, and important, change in your life.

Have you ever planned a big change in your life? Do you use milestones to track your progress? Share your thoughts, experiences, and insights in the comments.