Track Your Path to Success (Organizational Change)

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cumulative effect GOLDLast week we looked at an approach for tracking your path to success for a personal change. This week we will look at the same topic at the organizational level. Many elements of the approach are the same in both cases; and, there are also some differences.


Throughout this post, I will use the following example.  You are moving your advertising firm’s office to a new location. In doing so, you are also looking to drive a more collaborative culture. To help foster this shift, the new space will be designed with only a few enclosed conference rooms. Day-to-day, employees will be moving from private offices to open space. Your reasoning is simple. All-too-often you hear, in one way or another, ideas that would have significantly strengthened a project, but that were neither solicited nor offered. And, you are losing longer-term clients who are finding the thinking behind what you produce “old and stale.”


Begin by thinking through what both installation and realization might look like for this change.

Installation milestones might include locating the new office space; signing the lease; hiring the architect; approving the final plans; touring the new facility with the staff for the first time; and moving in. They might also include defined changes in how projects are staffed.

In thinking through the change, you might determine that realization will be achieved when you have achieved a 75% retention of clients from one advertising campaign to their next.


As you map out your key indicators for both installation and realization, engage others within the organization in the process; my recommendation whenever possible is to involve both formal and informal leaders. This will help do at least three things.

  • It will help create a greater sense of ownership and understanding of the change within the organization.
  • It will help inform you as to how the change is perceived by others.
  • You will gain understanding and insights beyond your own.

What are the major adjustments that people will have to make in how they think, as well as what they do? In this example, that will most likely have to do with things like relinquishing pride of ownership (“It’s my idea!”); competition vs. collaboration; and defining one’s work space. People will benefit by learning more about one another’s individual strengths and weaknesses so that they can build stronger teams, and seek out help from the best available resources. (“I like working with Janice because we both think alike, but on this project I should probably ask Phil to work with me. He is much more creative and causes me to think things through instead of just doing them by rote.”)

What are the changes that will have to be made in the organizational infrastructure to reinforce the mindset and behavior shifts you are seeking? Do performance management processes need to shift? What about the criteria that are used for making decisions regarding promotions, raises, bonuses, etc.? Should changes be made in selection criteria so that you are hiring strong team–vs. individual–players?


Are there people who you believe cannot, or will not, make the shift? When major change is executed successfully, there are always some people who are there at the beginning, but not at the end. (Some measures put this number as high as one in three.) The problem is, all too often those who remain are the very ones least able to change, and those who leave are the ones most capable of changing.

Focus time and attention on retaining the people that you want on board going forward, the ones that can and will help you be successful in achieving your change objectives. And support those who are unwilling or unable to make the change journey; help them to make a graceful exit. (The importance of doing this cannot be overemphasized. Years ago I was with a consulting firm that was doing work in a recently deregulated industry. Having less-than-successfully made the transition, a potential client came to us to see if we could help them turn their situation around. As they put it, “We used to be an elephant in our industry. We wanted to become a jaguar, but instead became an elephant on Slim Fast.”)


Develop a “realization map.” While there are many approaches to doing so, the one I have found most useful is relatively simple. it seeks to answer the question, “What 2-3 outcomes do we need to accomplish in each of these four domains in order to achieve full realization?” The four domains are: People/Culture; Process/Internal; Customer/External; and Business/Financial. In our case, they may be something like this.

  • People, Culture: Zero solo practitioners; 80% of new hires referred by current employees
  • Process, Internal: There is a “Right Resource” staffing process; 100% of projects staffed by teams, vs. individuals
  • Customer, External: 75% of clients select our firm from one advertising campaign to the next; we obtain 5 new clients from current client referrals each year
  • Business, Financial: We experience 10% annual growth in profit; we receive the advertising industry’s “Ad to Action” award.

The example below shows what this map might look like, including the relationships between the different indicators. (Email my at [email protected] for a PDF of this example.)

realization map


Using your realization map, think through whether there are any additional changes required that you have not already identified. 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. You may want to use different colors for the different levels of the map.


Now you can begin to group these together. What you want to create are a series of work streams consisting of related pieces. For example, there might be an “internal processes” work stream; an “office relocation” work stream; an “organizational infrastructure” work stream; and a “creative culture” work stream.


For each work stream, what are the key realization metrics along the way? What needs to be put in place (installation) in order to be able to achieve those realization metrics? Be sure what you identify is measurable.

Let’s look at some of the metrics of an “internal processes” work stream.

  • We have defined a “Right Resource” process for staffing projects (installation).
  • The “Right Resource” process is applied on 100% of projects (realization).
  • Unsolicited client feedback recognizes improved creativity in project deliverables (realization).
  • Etc.

    Revisit each of your work streams. If you achieve all of the indicators in each of them, will you achieve the business/financial results that are the catalyst for this change initiative?


just as was suggested last week for personal change, 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, organizational change.


What has been your experience with tracking the success of major changes in organizations? Do the promises at the outset translate to results at the end? Share your insights and lessons learned in the comments below.

Track Your Path to Success (Personal Change)

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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.

New Year’s Resolutions: Resolve for Results, Not Just Action.

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happy_new_year_2015_vector_greeting_card_design_by_123freevectors-d89bgdfAre you one of those who steadfastly makes New Year’s resolutions each January 1, only to see them evaporate into good intentions more quickly than the winter snow? Or, do you just not bother any more? Or, perhaps you are one of the few who make–and keep–their resolutions each year.

With this last post of 2014 (I am taking next week off to work on my resolutions), I thought it might be useful to think back on the posts of the past few months, and see how they can guide you through making  New Year’s resolutions that stick.


Start with what’s in your heart. If it is something that you “really should” or “need to” do, you may start down the road, but the journey is likely to stop far short of the destination. Eating healthier, getting more exercise, quitting smoking, sleeping 6-8 hours a night…these are all worthy resolutions. And, if you are making one or more of them your resolutions, it is because doing so will be a big–and tough–change for you.

Big, tough changes don’t succeed because they are the right things to do; they succeed because in our hearts (not in our minds) we cannot imagine them failing. They succeed because they are rooted in our hearts, not our heads.

What change, or changes, have roots in your heart? That is where your New Year’s resolution needs to begin. Don’t start with “what” you are going to do. A resolution that you will fulfill is not about going to the gym more often; there is something deeper. Start with what is in your heart. Start with Why.(See the post, Don’t Start With a Plan!)


Write your change story. Reflect on your “why.” Envision achieving it. You have just crossed the finish line of your first marathon. You are standing on the stage, mid-career, receiving your college degree in the field you have wanted as your career your entire life. You have woken up in your new home in Costa Rica for the first time. You have come out as gay, or bi, or trans, and you know what it means to live as who you truly are–without fear or hesitation or regret–for the first time in your life.

Write your change story from where it is rooted. It is a story that is driven by your passion to make it true; let that passion flow into the story. Yes, there will be some talk about the “how’s” and the “what’s.” But if the change is that deep and important, many of those things will be mysteries now. Think about a few signals that you are on the right track. Using one of the examples above…it is not that you have registered for college, but that you have begun studies in the career of your choice.

There is much more to writing your change story. How will you know when you get there? Who is in your story? What is your time frame? Why is it important to honor the past, and to respect and believe in yourself? What is the flow “sparkline”? (See the posts What’s Your Story? Parts 1-3 for more guidance on writing your story.)


Tell your story. First, tell it to yourself. Stand in front of the mirror. Look yourself in the eye. Speak your truth. Yes, really! It may be difficult, or even impossible, at first. But if you can’t stand up to witnessing your own story it is unlikely that you will be able to live it. Tell it again, and again, and again. And tell it to others.

(For more, see the post Telling Your Personal Change Story.)


Anchors, aweigh. We each have our own anchors. They help to keep us in place in our lives, and provide stability when things get tough. They may be other people, our beliefs and practices, possessions, a job…

What are your anchors? Will they help keep you faced into your New Year’s resolution? Will they weigh you down until you cut yourself free from the resolution? Do you need to cut yourself free from (or in some other way redefine your relationship to) them?

Our anchors are critical in times of change. So is maintaining the relationship with them (including no relationship at all) that will enable us to succeed. (Learn more about working with your anchors in Anchors, Aweigh!.)


When the going gets tough… If your resolution has its roots in your heart, the only reason it might seem easy right now is because you really don’t know what it will take to succeed (think “honeymoon”). It isn’t a matter of “if the going gets tough.” It is “when the going gets tough.”

Yes, when the going gets tough, you need to be tough as well. But, unfortunately, too often we think that we can tough it out alone when we can’t. And, if it is a tough change, chances are, we can’t tough it out alone. The twelve step programs are a great reminder of this. No one thinks that alcohol, or substance use, or sex, or gambling addictions are healthy choices in life. Twelve step programs are there to help people move through, and beyond, these addictions. And, each of them uses some form of an accountability buddy (think “sponsor”) to do so.

We need discipline if we are to realize the promise of our New Year’s resolution. And with the discipline, we may well also need an accountability buddy. (See Discipline 2.0 to learn more about the discipline needed to achieve your resolution goals.)


Welcome to the season in which many of us promise to make positive change for ourselves, and perhaps the world. These resolutions require resolve. My wish for you this holiday season is that however you may celebrate it, may it be a celebration of joy and wonder. I also wish that as you face the New Year, you find the resolve deep in your heart to continue on a journey of growth, health, healing, and happiness. And, finally, I wish for you a joyous, wondrous, and heart-felt fulfilling New Year!

Intuition? You can’t always trust it!

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iStock_000005164183SmallDo you rely on your intuition? For those of us who do, the reason is simple… Most of the time it serves us well.

However, if you are facing (or in the midst of) a really big change, intuition is one of those things that can all too easily lead you astray.

In this post I will briefly describe some of the ways in which difficult change calls for counter-intuitive action.


If you have a “Type A” approach to life, you may well find yourself in a leadership position when faced with change, whether at the personal or organizational level. Among the characteristics often seen in Type A’s are: rigidly organized, impatient, and avoidance of mistakes (or at least an avoidance of admitting to them). Day-to-day, these characteristics might serve you well; if the change you are facing is highly disruptive they can do just the opposite.

By definition, the really big changes we face come with surprises, unexpected twists and turns, unanticipated challenges. Yes, being organized helps prepare you, and allows you to move through the change in a more certain way. The caveat is “a more certain way,” not a certain way. Being too rigidly organized, having an expectation that things will all go the way they are planned planned, will test your patience…certainly not healthy if you are impatient to start with.

Impatience, the swift move from decision to action, is a risk from the outset of large-scale change. Remember “uninformed optimism” [see What’s Your Story? (Part 1)]. Impatience can easily get you on the wrong path forward if you have not clearly articulated your story. In addition, it will put distance between you and others whose understanding, commitment, and alignment are essential to the success of the change.

As for mistakes…they are part of the territory. You will make them. if you don’t acknowledge and own them, you are not going to be able to correct them, make the needed adjustments, and get back on the path to success.


“Don’t worry. Be happy!”

This may be  a useful lens for seeing things during relative calm. Whether at home or at work, lower stress and satisfaction lead to higher productivity and a better quality of life. But, the disruption of change brings with it worry; frowns are liable to replace the smiles at times. If you want to keep people happy, lessen the change. if you want the change to deliver on its promise, find ways to help them be successful despite their discomfort. (And remember, the same holds true for you as you move through the change… you won’t always be comfortable; you can be successful.)


Big change requires decisive leadership!

There are times when building consensus is important. When engaging in a major change, however, consensus is not going to determine the path forward. Some people are less comfortable with change than others; some are more secure in trusting fate or sticking with the status quo. Some people will see the future through a lens closely aligned to your own; others will have a widely divergent view.

Listen to those voices that are important to hear. Encourage them to challenge you, to disagree, to offer alternative perspectives. But be clear as to how (and by whom) decisions will be made. When the time comes for decisions to be made, if you are the decision maker, make and own the decisions.


There are many other ways the intuition and other “steady state” ways of doing things can trip you up during major change. What has your experience taught you? Please post it below.

All Change Is Different. All Change Is the Same.

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glass-facesChange is an optical illusion. Each of us looks at it and sees it through a different lens. For one person, moving the office coffee pot is a major change; for another it is only a minor disruption, adapted to before the end of the day. For one person, starting a new job is an exciting–perhaps even appealing–challenge. For another, it is life’s worst nightmare.

Why is it that all change is different? And if that is the case, how can it be that all change is the same?


As I wrote in an earlier blog, I use Daryl Conner’s definition of change as “a disruption in expectations.” Let’s apply this to the example of starting a new job. Personally, I have held at least 18 different positions doing at least a dozen different types of work in 8 different industries. Clearly, for me, starting a new job is exciting. It gives me the opportunity to take all that I have learned and apply it in a new context; to face new challenges; to learn new things; to develop new skills; and to meet new people. And, as I look at my decision to leave jobs, it has been when I have accomplished what I set out to do, when I have moved from addressing the challenges for which I was hired to maintaining the status quo.

At the other end of the continuum is a man I met a few years ago. “Bill” went to work for an employer directly out of college. Decades later he retired from the same employer, in the same department as he started. Within two years, unable to adapt to retirement, he became a consultant. You guessed it; he consults to his former employer.

Clearly, for Bill and me, the act of starting a new job has very different meaning; it is a very different change.


If that is the case, how can all changes be the same?

What those of us who have immersed ourselves in the field of change have learned is this. While the nature of the disruptions to expectations may be countless, the patterns of human response are consistent and they are predictable.  It doesn’t matter whether the change is inconsequential or transformational. It doesn’t matter whether the change is perceived as positive or as negative. It doesn’t matter whether the change is at the deeply personal level, is a change at work, or is societal in nature. It doesn’t matter whether you are in Tampa, or Topeka, or Tokyo. All of these factors may affect the nature of the change, and even the outward reaction to it. What they do not affect is the predictability of the response patterns.

This deep understanding of change provides strong guidance on how to successfully navigate any change. Let me just highlight a few.

  1. Understand how difficult the change journey will be as seen through the eyes of those who have to travel it. is it a major or minor disruption? Do they perceive it is a positive or negative change? Does it require changes in behavior, or does it go deeper, requiring different ways of thinking as well? Understanding the difficulty will allow you to appropriately calibrate the response.
  2. Prepare for change. Learn the patterns. Know, for example, that even if the change is seen as positive, if it is a major change, the time will come when strong resistance will surface. (Just think of the journey from dating, to commitment, to marriage, to building and sustaining a long-term relationship.) If you understand that  then you will recognize that your doubts, your questioning, those very specific problems you encounter are not signs of something being wrong, but are a part of the inevitable cycle of change. With that understanding, you are able to respond differently.
  3. Knowing the patterns allows you to also prepare for–and thus execute–any specific change differently. Given that change is driven by a loss of control, for example, how, when, and to what degree are you able to return a sense of control for those who are being disrupted?

Underlying each of my Change Mentor posts is the application of this understanding. It guides how I approach each aspect of each disruptive change in my life. It doesn’t turn “change” into “unchange;” it is still disruptive. But knowing what to expect does lessen the level of disruption and provides clear guidance on shaping the path forward. It helps me never feel like a victim of change, even when it comes from the outside and I see it as negative.

Change is inevitable. Every change is different. Every change is the same.


Join the conversation… Share one of your biggest “Aha’s” or lessons learned about change. Do you think that there are underlying patterns in our response to change, regardless of the nature of the change? Add your comments below.

 

Telling Your Organization’s Change Story…

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iStock_000007755704iconIt seems self-evident, but is so often forgotten. And, the larger your organization, the easier it is to forget… Organizations don’t change; change occurs through shifts in the way that people think and behave. Your organization–large or small, public or private, for profit or nonprofit–succeeds, or fails, through the people inside of it and their interactions with both one another and with those you intend to serve. This is why writing your change story is fundamentally no different for your organization than it would be for a personal change. Depending on the nature of your change and of your organization, you may need the press releases, the media announcements, the calls with investors. You do need your organization’s change story. It is the story of people changing. It is a personal story for everyone in the organization.


Not unlike last week’s post (Telling Your Personal Change Story), the first person you need to tell your organization’s change story to is yourself. Quite simply, if you don’t feel it and believe it, neither will anyone else. If you are not going to take the change to heart, neither will anyone else. If you believe “they have to change,” or “the organization has to change,” but you don’t, you–and your change–will fail. If this is a really big change for the organization, it means it is a big change for you as well.


Whether you are the person who is ultimately responsible for the change, have a position of authority elsewhere in the organization, or are someone with informal influence, you next need to tell the story to those who are in a position to drive the story throughout the organization. This will include, but should not be limited to, your direct reports. It should also include others who are highly influential even though they may not be part of the formal hierarchy.

Each of these people needs to feel and believe the story as fully as you do. They need to make it their own, and to tell it in their own words. And, they need to keep it whole. All of the guidelines for writing the story (What’s Your Story? Parts 1 and 2) hold equally true in its telling. Let’s take a look at the guidelines as they apply to telling your organization’s change story.


  1. Start with your “why.” Why the change is important to the organization should be a constant, regardless of who is telling the story. But it is also important to tell why it is important to you. As Simon Sinek tells us, your why is in your heart. With this is mind, don’t try to tell others why it is important to them. Each person needs to determine that for himself or herself.
  2. Write from the future. Tell the story from the future.
  3. Identify how you will know when you have arrived at your destination. What are the indicators that tell you that progress is being made, not just in putting things in place, but in actually shifting the thinking and behaviors that need to change? The story identifies indicators at the organizational level; you need to tell people what these indicators mean to them.
  4. Establish your time frame. The time frame in the story is the time frame. However, it will also be important to tell people (when it is known) what the time frame means for them.
  5. Create a “sparkline.” Nancy Duarte describes the sparkline as the constant flow in the story between “what is” and “what could be.” The story has a sparkline, and it is there for a purpose. Use it. The sparkline helps people let go of the current state, and find hope in the future.
  6. Determine who the participants in your story will be, and their roles. You may not know who will elect to make the journey, and who will opt out. You may not know the job titles, or the names, of those who will complete the journey. When you know these things, they should be addressed. In the meantime, you do know the attributes of those who will succeed in the future state. Be clear in articulating them as part of the story. For example, Today we celebrate individual achievement. As we move into the future, our focus is shifting to acknowledge how much we need every person to achieve, and how much we are dependent on one another. This time next year, the individual who positions himself or herself as the star will be the outlier. Those teams that are strong contributors to our success are the ones we will be acknowledging.
  7. Honor the past. There is an organizational past to be honored. And, there is a personal past, both for you, and for those to whom you are telling the story.
  8. Respect and believe in yourself. As you tell the story, if you do not respect and believe in yourself, those who are listening won’t respect and believe in you.

During change people need to hear what it means to the organization. They may need the  data, the number of projects or initiatives, the revenue projections, and all of those things that are a part of “the rationale” for initiating such a major initiative. The “big announcement,” whatever form it may take, will be enough to excite some (or even many) to begin the change journey.

But if the journey is long, if it is difficult, they need more. They need a consistent story across the organization, but not the same story. They need to know what the journey means to them, and what is required for them to succeed in the future that your organization is creating. They need to know that you believe in that future, not just in your head, but in your heart as well. They need to hear the story and make it their own.

 

 

What’s Your Story? (Part 2, Guidelines 1-5 for Writing Your Story)

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Picture1Writing your change story isn’t a task you can delegate. Nor is it likely that you should make it a solo experience. It is going to take reflection, challenge, exploration, commitment, and a lot of hard work. Chances are, writing your story will be cathartic for all those involved in the process.

To help you in the process, I find it easiest to provide a series of guidelines. While many of my examples reflect personal change, the same guidelines will hold true if you are navigating your organization through a major transition. This week I am covering the first five guidelines. The remainder will be addressed in next week’s post.


1. Start with your why.

Where do you start? In my post “Don’t Start With a Plan” I referenced  Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, and wrote, You don’t start with a plan; you don’t start with “what” you are going to do. You start with what is in your heart. You start with WhyYour story needs to be written based on that why. The change you are writing about, the change you are facing, is big; it is tough; it has the capability of defeating you, your organization, or both. You can’t win that battle with intellect alone. You need passion; and you need courage and discipline. Unless the change comes from your heart, you are unlikely to reach the destination you have defined.


2. Write from the future.

Envision life when you are realizing the full range of benefits that your change has to offer. That is your destination, and that is where you begin to write your story. Make it real. What does it look like, feel, like, smell like, taste like, sound like? It is less about what you and others in the story are doing, and more about how you are being.

I am currently working with a client who is shaping a major personal transformation in his life. Example 1 is how his story should not begin.

Example 1: I got up this morning. The first thing I did was make some coffee, and sit down with the paper. Now that I have come out as a gay man and moved into my own place, it really feels good.

Here is what I mean when I say to write from the future.

Example 2: This morning I woke up feeling free. If I have ever had this feeling before, I cannot remember it. Today I am truly understanding for the first time what it means to live my life fully as who I am. 


3. Identify how you will know when you have reached your change destination. 

Yes, your journey requires putting certain things in place. You may need new systems, or a new financial plan. You may need to address certain legal or regulatory issues. New skills may be required. You may need to gain fluency in a new language, or find a home in a new location. People may need to not just act differently; shifts in mindsets might also be necessary.

Too often, whether as individuals or as an organization, these types of things become the milestones by which change is measured. However, installing the components of the change is different than realizing its full benefit. Know how you will determine realization of your change. Identify a small number (no more than 5-7) critical realization indicators along the path from the present to the future state.

In Example 1 above, coming out is an installation measure, as is my client moving into his own place. Both of these may occur, and yet he may end up just “feeling good,” not the end state he is seeking. Example 2 illustrates realization…achieving the full benefit of his change. Today I am truly understanding for the first time what it means to live my life fully as who I am. 

For my client this may be his measure of full realization. Other realization milestones along his path may include things such as coming to terms with the religious stigma he has felt as a closeted gay man; resolution of his relationship to his family and friends; and being at peace with his sexual identity.

As you write your story, you don’t have to know how you will achieve these things. In fact, it is unlikely that you will have more than a clue about what will be required for some of them. However, you do need to know what these critical milestones are; identifying them is one of the reasons that this is not an easy process.


4. Establish your time frame.

How long will this change take, really? You need to set a time frame for full realization of the change, as well as for the interim steps. If you leave it open-ended, you will find that progress is elusive; you are working toward a dream, not a future reality.

You’ve identified your critical realization milestones. What are their interdependencies? What is the sequence in which they should be achieved? Lay them out on a white board, or a piece of paper. In a future blog posting I will be talking about planning. Typically organizational changes will require much more in-depth plans than personal ones. However, even at the personal change level, you will need a plan.

Define a realistic length of time for achieving each of your realization milestones. Which ones can you be working on at the same time? When you put the times to them, are you achieving realization within an acceptable period of time? If not, you will need to either commit more resources to the journey (e.g. invest more of your time per week), or modify the desired realization so it is achievable within the time frame required.


5. Create a “sparkline.”

If you know of Nancy Duarte, you know how well she understands both the science and the art of storytelling. In her book Resonate she spends considerable time discussing how to create “sparklines.” In essence, the sparkline of a story is its flow from what is to what could be to what is to what could be

While Nancy is focused on visual presentations in her book, the process for constructing a sparkline is the same for your story. A sparkline creates contrast.

Let me briefly illustrate the sparkline in action with a story you know, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.

(What is): I have a dream

(What could be): That one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.”

(What is): I have a dream

(What could be): That my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

What are you moving from? What are you moving to? Your sparkline will help tell the story of your journey.


Next week I will provide additional guidelines on writing your story. In the meantime, please share your own experiences. What are the stories that have worked to help move you through difficult change journeys? What about them made the difference? Do these guidelines resonate with you, or are there any that just don’t seem to work? Your thoughts, comments, experiences, are welcomed!