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!



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.





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.





It’s Your Choice.


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?

Communication Goes Both Ways.


quo vadisIn our last post I wrote about the importance of one-way communication. This week, we will take a look at two-way communication. Once again I will address a few critical, and often overlooked, things to focus on.

It seems so obvious…but it’s not. Why are you having the conversation? All too often, the people engaged in a discussion go into it with different assumptions about the roles each are playing and what that means to the outcome.

The most common misunderstanding has to do with decision-making. Why does she ask our opinion? She never listens to us when it really matters! Chatter like this takes place thousands of times a day. It fosters resentment, raises resistance, and eats at credibility. It is also easily addressed on the front end. Be explicit about why you are engaging people in the conversation.

I want your advice on a change that I am considering making. I will listen, and will weigh your input carefully…but it is my decision to make.

I have decided that we are moving forward with this change. I know that you have concerns, and it is important that we get them out on the table. I will work with you to figure out how we address them. 

Right now it seems that each of us has our own priorities. The result is that we are working against one another, instead of supporting one another. We need to agree as a team what the priorities are; if we cannot, then I will take your input and set the priorities for us. 

In each of these examples, the purpose of the conversation is made clear. It may be to inform a decision, to help make a decision, or to explore what will get in the way of successfully executing a decision that has already been made. At the end of the day, there is no question, though. Participants understand the roles they are to play in the discussion.

The second topic I want to address is the role of two-way communication and resistance.

We have talked before about the fact that people resist change, whether they perceive it as negative or positive. And, we’ve discussed the fact that if you don’t see resistance, either the change is being executed at a superficial level, or the resistance is underground.

Two-way communication–when done in an open and trusting environment–is a means of both surfacing and addressing resistance. Again, you have to be explicit about the purpose of the conversation, e.g. There is no question that the change is being made. What I am seeking is your input on the best way to move it forward. 

There are a few keys to successfully engaging people in this type of conversation. First, you need to be open to hearing what others have to say. If you do it for appearance-sake, you are undermining yourself and the change.  Second, people need to be able to trust you if they are to be truthful with you; recognize and value–don’t shoot–the messenger. Third, you need to respond to what you hear, and the sooner, the better; when you respond, be as explicit as possible.

I hear your concern about the fact that you were not consulted on this decision. It was a highly personal one, and one that I had to make on my own. Now that it is made, I am open to working with you on how to carry it out.

 I don’t yet know which of our locations we will be letting go of. That decision will be made within the next 45 days; as soon as it is, I will let you know.

I understand how much time it takes to complete that analysis each week, and agree that while the results are interesting, they don’t drive decisions. Effective immediately, let’s discontinue it.

If you are going to successfully move through a change, whether personal or organizational, maintain two-way communication with those who will be making the journey with you. It will help make the navigation a lot more sure.

Feel free to share your own insights and experiences.

Resistance Is!


iStock_000004140332SmallResistance happens.

Whether you want to take this change journey or not, if it is a big change, you will find yourself resisting.

Whether it was your idea or not, if it is a big change, you will find yourself resisting.

Whether you see this as a negative change, or as a positive one, if it is a big change, you will find yourself resisting. Ditto for those around you who are affected by the change.

And, sometimes our strongest resistance (often expressed as “I can’t…”, see below) arises with the changes that are most important to us.

The truth is, resistance happens. It is a part of the change journey.

We have talked about this a little bit in earlier posts; let’s dive into it deeper today.

While it can take many forms–from gossip to work slowdowns, from subterfuge to immobilization–at its root, resistance is the result of unwillingness and/or inability.

It is easy to understand resistance when you (and/or others) see the change as negative. But why do we resist changes that you initiate, that we think are good ideas…or even true imperatives? The answer is actually pretty simple. At some point we begin to resist because we find out what the cost of the change is really going to be. (The cost might be financial, but it is generally much more. It might include a cost in prestige, or in relationships that have anchored you for years, or time, or in having to let go of other things you want to do, etc.)

When I first began training in change many years ago, Daryl Conner provided important guidance that I still use today. “The cost of the status quo must be significantly greater than the cost of the transition, or you will start the change journey but will not complete it.” 

With this in mind, it is critical that as you prepare for your change, you not only look at the opportunities that it offers if you are successful. You also need to be very honest with yourself and others about the cost of making the transition…and the cost of not doing so!

Resistance’s other root cause is ability. You just may not have the skills or other resources that you discover you need if you are to be successful. Skill development may require training (if you need to do it yourself), or hiring others to perform the needed tasks. Either way, once again we are back to cost.

Finally, if you need other resources (whether that be equipment, or facilities, or software, or…), there will be a cost. Either you find, free up, or in some other way obtain those resources, or you redefine the change to something that is achievable with the resources that you do have.

There is one more important note about ability. Often you will hear, or you may even be the one saying, “I can’t…” Don’t take “I can’t” at face value! All too often, what it really means is, “I won’t.”  “I can’t” is about ability. “I won’t” is about willingness. When faced with a really difficult task, “I can’t do it.” may actually be offered as the rationale for not having the courage to do it. 

All too often, we see resistance as a sign of something going wrong. It isn’t. Resistance during major change is inevitable. Something is going wrong if you don’t see it, don’t feel it. Either the change is not really moving forward, or the resistance is playing out underground.

Surfacing resistance, and being clear about the willingness and/or ability causes that underlie it, will help you to continue to move the change forward. Ignoring it, or treating it as a distraction, will leave you short of achieving the change you have set our for yourself.

What is your experience with resistance?

Big Changes Are Cathartic.


iStock_000002578103Small bw 2Some changes are purely intellectual exercises. They make sense. We know how to achieve them. We get them done.

Big changes have an intellectual component…but they go much deeper.


At one level it is quite simple. They have the ability to (and quite often do) touch us to our very core.

Let’s take a brief look at this phenomenon. While it may not make the experience of catharsis any less difficult, it may be helpful to both know to expect it, and to recognize that this is an unavoidable element of major change.

Change disrupts the status quo; big change disrupts it big time. The path is unclear, the outcomes are uncertain, the journey often uncomfortable. At the very least, it will intrude on our sense of safety and security (the second level in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). Some changes may hit us at even a more fundamental level, leaving us feeling that our very survival is at stake. Other big changes may undermine our ego or sense of self-worth. Or, they may bring about the creation, re-definition, or termination of relationships. They can leave us questioning our wisdom, our insights, and our dreams.

As if that isn’t enough, very often the big changes in life–whether personal or professional–are about dismantling paradigms that we have invested significantly in creating and sustaining. Most likely, we envisioned them lasting forever (or at least for our lifetimes). It may be that the marriage or similar relationship that you have spent decades nurturing along with the home, the family, and the associated traditions are all about to fundamentally change. Or perhaps it is that the business in which you have invested days, nights, weekends (along with vacations and holidays) bringing to fruition…you have come to realize must dramatically  change if it is to continue to survive.

If all this sounds like catharsis comes with “doom and gloom” (few people would be surprised about that), it is equally true with the positively perceived big changes you will face. While I will go into this in more detail at another time, the reason we so eagerly launch into those changes, whether at work or at home, is that we are naive as to what they will be demanding of us if we are committed to long-term success. (Think “honeymoon” here…) The status quo is being equally disrupted. The old paradigms still need to be dismantled. The journey is no more certain, nor is the outcome.

So, positively perceived change or negative, if the change is big, the journey is going to be more than a “head trip.” It is going to require making significant shifts in ways of thinking, behaving, and perhaps even believing; it is going to require letting go of the old and affirming the new.

What does this mean for you and the others affected by the change?

First, anticipate and plan for catharsis; don’t let it surprise you. It may be possible to create cathartic moments.  One consulting firm that I know facilitates leadership workshops that are designed as catalysts for catharsis. I once worked with a client organization that held a ceremonial funerary event to acknowledge their acquisition, then followed it with a celebration for the new possibilities the acquisition would allow. The bachelor party and wedding reception are examples of parallel rituals at the personal level.

Second, acknowledge to yourself that catharsis is not just for the other people; it is part of your journey as well. Until you are ready to let the tears flow, find an appropriate outlet for the anger, perhaps laugh hysterically, mourn, and/or…, you will be unable to complete the journey.

What is your experience with catharsis and change? Please comment below.