Ready? Your Next Big Change Is Coming!

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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…

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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.

 

 

 

Stuck?

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Things Are Changing. Be Happy.

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iStock_000005250604SmallChange. It’s supposed to make us happy, isn’t it?

At least, it’s sometimes supposed to make us happy, isn’t it?

The truth is, we are happiest when we know what to expect, when we have some sense of control about our lives and what is happening in them. When we are in the midst of change, that is taken away.


Yes, we are often happy going into change. But, as we’ve discussed before (I Like This Change. It Will Easily Succeed.), that positive perception is often driven by naivete about what is actually required to succeed with the change.


And, we are often happy coming out of the change. We have reclaimed control (whether direct or indirect), and are achieving the results that we set out for ourselves before we began the journey.


But along the way… Things are changing. Be happy. If the change is big, it just doesn’t work that way. There are moments of happiness. Success with the next step taken, the next milestone achieved. The sense of achievement when major hurdles are overcome, when critical problems are solved.

But, all-in-all, the journey is a difficult one. It can be scary as you venture into the unknown. It can be destabilizing as you let go of anchors that have served you well in the past, but are now holding you back. It can be more challenging than you ever though possible as you are called on to dismantle what you may have spent a career, or a lifetime, creating.

If your change is deeply personal, it can touch what author Thomas Moore and others refer to as the “dark night of the soul.” You may be brought face-to-face with your deepest fears, that which you most dread, thoughts and feelings which you have avoided as long as you’ve thought they might exist.

Along the way, happiness happens. But it is not the norm.


Understand this when you are planning, and journeying through, your own changes. Recognize this when you are guiding others through their change journey. If happiness is the measure of success en route, failure is inevitable. The key during change is not in trying to make people happy, it is helping them succeed despite their discomfort.


What is your experience with happiness during change? Tell your story; share your comments.

When It Comes to Change, There Is No Immunity.

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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.


Change…

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.


Change…

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.


Change…

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.

 

 

 

 

Prepare For Your Journey.

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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.