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Posts tagged ‘Change Management’

driving with the brakes on

I pulled out into traffic, accelerated, and then – instinctively braked the car. The brake lights on the vehicle ahead had me reacting before my brain had fully processed the situation. Scanning the road and beyond, I realized there was no reason to be braking. And, in fact, the vehicle was traveling at normal highway speeds. They were, unaccountably, driving with their foot on the brakes.

I know leaders who drive with one foot on the brake and one on the accelerator. They sense the need for change, but find five ways a day to avoid it. And, the truth is, we all prefer the known to the unknown.

We are comfortable with our mediocre status quo. We deny what we see in front of us. We escape, getting far enough away from the issue that it doesn’t touch us directly. We distract ourselves with busyness and the tyranny of the immediate.

Oh how we hate change. Oh how we dislike endings. The messiness, frustration, anger, denial, disenchantment – the loss, all disturb our equilibrium. Yet, as Henry Cloud says, “Knowing the names of the streets is not a good reason to keep living in hell.” 1

If I said, “The building is on fire! Get out!” Change would happen quickly. If I told you that the store a mile from here is selling your favorite electronic device two-for-one this afternoon. Change would happen quickly. To create an ending requires fear of the negative consequences and the allure of the positive possibilities. How do we create necessary endings?

Start by playing the movie. This is the movie that shows what happens tomorrow, the month after that, and the following year. “Do you want to be having the same conversation with the same incompetent employee next month and the month after that?” Or, “Do you want to be unable to purchase the new equipment you need now a year from now because you haven’t fired the person who can’t get the billing done before the deadline?”

List your frustrations: someone who is performing poorly, someone who won’t listen; ineffective operation management that is producing financial problems, an ongoing pattern (yours or someone else’s) that doesn’t change, a strategy that doesn’t work. Stop the distractions. Tell yourself the truth. Play the movie. Smell the smoke. Make the change.

Enlist allies. Surround yourself with people who share your urgency. This creates heat from the requirement to be visibly responsible and accountable. It creates peer pressure from people and team members who are supporting and contributing energy. Heat plus pressure create energy to get unstuck and create forward motion. Turn up the heat. Make the change.

Make the vision visible. This line has begun to fall on deaf ears. And yet, our brains are designed to create what we imagine. It’s why basketball players envision the ball going through the hoop before they release it in the act of shooting. Make sure your actions support your imagined vision. You can’t make the shot if you don’t have the ball. You can’t make the shot if you don’t release the ball. Talk about it. Write it down. Post photos of the new reality. Make it real. Make the change.

Set a deadline. Deadlines force endings and change. Is April 15 near? The closer it is, the more likely your income taxes are complete. Deadlines create structure, organize energy, and direct focus. Be specific about your expectations. State the consequences. State the deadline. It works for the underperformer, the project, or initiating a process change. Light the fire. Make the change.

Be trustworthy. Endings and beginnings are not invisible. Living the change is a daily activity. Actions must match words. Intentions must be clear. Competence must be displayed. Results must be seen. And in the mist of change, intentionally connect with people in a meaningful way. Seek to understand their concerns and challenge them to consider what is possible if time and energy are properly invested. Act with integrity. Make the change.

Time and energy are our primary resources. Leaders use these resources to act and, sometimes, go where others are not so that others can follow. Leaders create necessary endings so that new beginnings are possible. “The truth is that there is no ending or better time coming unless we do something.” 2

Is it time to stop driving with the brakes on?

Further reading:

1Cloud, H. (2011). Necessary Endings. Harper Business: New York, NY.
2Kotter, J. (2008).  A Sense of Urgency. Harvard Business Press: Boston, MA.

Habits for organizations and individuals

Charles Duhigg’s new book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, uses case studies and stories along with descriptions of current research on habits and change to demonstrate the power of habits. Habits of individuals, successful organizations, and societies are held up as examples.

I discovered this book after reading the recent New York Times article: How Companies Learn Your Secrets. I was intrigued by the way companies use data analytics to market to consumers before the consumer knows what they want. The key is using the data to not only discover and support existing habits, but to target consumers who are at life-change-points. Change points disrupt routine, allowing the company to attempt to create new habits through marketing schemes. Perhaps scheme is too strong or too British a word, but the changed habits result in a big jump in the bottom line. For example: Target’s sales grew from $44 billion to $65 billion after they began a “heightened focus” on “specific guest segments” (p. 210).

Duhigg writes about organizations from Starbucks to the Indianapolis Colts to Saddleback church. He details how these diverse organizations make use of individual and community habits to create change and transformation. He looks at how leaders alter existing habits and create new ones through accident and design. He tells stories about leaders using change, crisis, and disruption to introduce new habits and behaviors into organizations.

My favorite case study is the story of Paul O’Neill, CEO at Alcoa. O’Neill focused on changing one habit across a multi-national organization: safety, . Through focusing on changing one habit, everything about Alcoa’s culture shifted. Priorities, goals, and ways of thinking changed. The focus on safety “created a climate in which all kinds of new ideas bubbled up” (p. 118).

There are three essential points on the neurological loop: the cue, the routine, and the reward – supported by belief. The opportunity to change happens when we identify a cue, routine, reward cycle. The simplest transformation happens when we simply change the routine we use, the center of the cycle. For example: cue – I’m tired, routine – surfing the web, reward – idea stimulation. Replace the routine with taking a walk around the office or around the block. The reward is the same, but the physical activity can offer even more rewards.

This is not a self-help book or an organizational blueprint for change. But if you are interested in case studies and stories of how habits influence organizational and individual change, I recommend this book.

What are the habits that influence your organization’s priorities and behaviors?

Great by Choice

An invitation to rethink teambuilding

A team is a group of people on a project with a common task and deadline. They depend on each other to produce successful outcomes, communicating constantly and usually informally. They need each other to “get it done.” When completed, the group has the sense that “we” did it! Examples of a team include a basketball team, a project team, or an ambulance crew. Organizational research demonstrates that teams increase their effectiveness and efficiency through “teambuilding” interventions.

An organization is more often a tribe or, in the case of a large organization, a federation. A federation is a collection of groups that work together to use common resources or promote common interests. The managers of individual groups protect the interests of their own group whether budget dollars, resources, or objectives. In meetings the group managers bring their own aims and perspectives. They promote their own group. A federation is often full of political lobbying and conflict, leading to a lack of consensus. It is easy to see why federation managers would ask for “teambuilding.”

A tribe is a group with a shared identity and a sense of shared mission and purpose. They may have a functional “head” and a “team spirit.” There may be smaller groups or individuals with independent responsibilities that support the larger goals. There are formal procedures and processes. Communication is a combination of formal and informal. There is an overall structure that allows work to get done. While work is judged individually, few people would put the organization at risk so that they could be successful. Usually emotional ties are strong; people care about each other and the organization. Can a tribe benefit from “teambuilding?”

Most managers are not managing teams, but rather federations or tribes. So, what do managers really want when they ask for a “teambuilding” intervention? In my experience, they want people within the group to forge a strong sense of belonging, to be willing to take the needs of the whole organization into account, to be willing to sacrifice for the good of the group. They want to be a group who attracts others to join.

Simple activities that help to forge a sense of belonging include sharing meals together and participating in community service. Informal activities could be a time of storytelling around a specific topic such as, “how I chose to become a part of this organization.” Formal interventions like a World Café or Appreciative Inquiry can increase individual’s sense of belonging and identifying with the group. Discover ways to share the inspiration that comes with increased personal connection and commitment – inspiration and energy attracts others.

I invite you to rethink “teambuilding” in your organization.

On Football and Credibility

a look AT the windshield

While I was driving down the road in the rain, wipers running at top speed, peering beyond the vehicle to the street and traffic, I came to a stop. The stop was both literal – at the stop sign – and figurative  – a mental stop sign.

The mental “stop sign” was part of an ongoing thought process from earlier today. This morning, I was having a conversation about organizational change and how to introduce change models to a leadership team. Another person in the conversation asked, “What would be a good metaphor for introducing a change model?”

Two hours later, driving through pouring rain, this presented itself: When I’m driving I see through the windshield. I use a windshield every day, but how often do I stop to think about the windshield itself?

One metaphor for a change model is a windshield. The windshield is allows us to drive safely in challenging weather conditions, protects us from bugs and thrown rocks. It also allows passengers to see clearly and ride in safety. Like the windshield, organizations and individuals have belief systems that allow us to “drive through” life experiences without thinking about the belief system or mental model.

Consider the windshield …. In the same way, a change model offers a “windshield” experience. It offers a mechanism for viewing the world. It offers a way to navigate the landscape ahead. And, just as windshield systems come with wipers and wiper fluid, change models include tools to navigate landscapes altered by adverse conditions and reduced visibility.

If you are an organization leader, I encourage you to get to reflect on the belief system and mental model that you use to navigate your world. Then I challenge you to research at least one new change model. As organizations face ongoing, discontinuous change, this is the equivalent of cleaning your windshield of bugs and dirt, topping off the windshield wiper fluid, and buying new wipers.

What is your preferred change model?

Our Maps of the World
The Dragon Next Door

Meep, meep …!

Growing up, I liked to get up before 7 a.m. on Saturday morning to watch the Bugs Bunny Road Runner hour. Every cartoon followed the same plot with the Road Runner constantly outwitting Wile E. Coyote and his unlimited supply of tricks purchased from Acme Corporation. The cartoon had its own law of gravity – Mr. Coyote could not fall until he looked down. And, no matter what he tried or how he planned, the Road Runner would shout, “Meep, meep!” as he zipped away into the sunset.

How often do our organizations run off a cliff and just keep going? The reports that no one has read for the last five years, the processes that are 90% workarounds of the original checklist, the employee that stopped contributing to the team two years ago – all things that are easier to ignore. We continue on as if we were standing on solid ground.

How often do we keep looking outside of our organization for the answers? Or look for quick fixes like the newest technology or the latest business fad. We continue on as if buying the same solutions will create a different outcome.

Looking down and falling leads to pain. Ending the ordering of new quick tricks from Acme requires change. We prefer to avoid pain and change. But the good news is that like Wile E. Coyote, we will live to fight another day. The only question is whether we will keep doing the same thing over and over again, or do the work of drawing a new cartoon.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball

Organizational antiques

An interesting conversation thread from the current Friends graduate cohort began with the statement, “I’m reflecting on the buzzphrase ‘historical perspective’ (something I hear a LOT and use often myself) and wondering if a bias toward “from this point forward” is more relevant. [sic] ” The discussion has proceeded to consider motives for using the phrase and how it influences outcomes.

I added my own questions: Is the phrase being used to stifle new ideas? Or, is it a preface to telling a story that spurs action? Further discussion questions motives in using the phrase: Is the motive to protect or justify a position? Continue the status quo? Is it a fear of change?

What are your organization’s antiques?

What are the processes that don’t support your goals? What are the decision-making methods that repeatedly lead to the dead-end road? What are the reports that no one has read in years? What equipment needs to be retired?

Which antiques are so valuable that you’ll pass them down to the next generation?

Reality or not


I’ve had several discussions over the past few days about our maps of the world or in Senge’s term: mental models. We each have ways of living in the world that allow us to navigate successfully. Red lights mean “Stop.” A classroom should be arranged in rows of tables with chairs facing forward.

The world we live in is the one that we construct. Not everyone uses the same construction. You may construct travel plans by getting recommendations from friends. While someone else may search for online trip reviews to seek out the best travel options.

We each use our own models and maps to deconstruct and reconstruct our world all the time. At work and home we constantly adjust to changing relationships and environments. We eliminate what isn’t working and construct an “alternative” reality.

The challenge for each of us is not that we construct reality using mental maps and models. The challenge is to be aware of them. Here are some questions to jumpstart making your models visible:

  • What do I assume when I interact with people? Am I on guard or assuming they want the best for the situation?
  • What are the assumptions behind my business strategy for this year? Am I operating from a sense of abundant possibility or scarcity?
  • How can I be more aware of my assumptions about how things work?

In case you’re wondering about the “reality” of the photo – it was taken on the Interstate by a passenger in a moving car, holding the shutter open to capture the lights of oncoming traffic – zoom.

Sailing with Dragons
Turning off the autopilot

The naked presenter

At first glance, Garr Reynolds’ new book, The naked presenter, is another entry in the “how to deliver presentation” genre. But as I read through the book, I found myself making notes. The notes were not about how to improve my presentations, but about how I approach change management.

As an organization development practitioner, I spend my time working with change management. This morphs through training – to teach something new, facilitation – where knowledge and ideas are exchanged,  and, communication – designed to inform, motivate, and effect behavior change. Reynolds writes about all of this and more. He integrates information from interpersonal neurobiology, personal observation of his surroundings, and jazz musicians.

He does write about making effective presentations and improving public speaking skills. But the most important idea I encountered in the book is that “lessons are everywhere.” It is up to each of us to inquire into everyone and everything we encounter, asking how it impacts who we are and what old and new lessons we take away.

Each of us has many opportunities to connect with others. Knowing who we are and what matters is the foundation. Knowing why we are speaking, along with how and what we are communicating, allows us to build and effect change.

If you like to walk around the neighborhood block backward, seeing the roof lines and landscape from a new perspective, I recommend reading this book and watching for patterns that reach far beyond presentation design.

Reading about change

Fall Prairie at Quivera NWR

Change is happening on the Kansas prairie as grasses and trees transform to their brilliant fall colors. As Organization Development (OD) practitioners we journey alongside organizations and individuals in the midst of planned and unplanned change. Here are some items gleaned from my reading this past weekend.

George R. Brunk III, Interim President of AMBS, was one author I encountered who is thinking and writing about change. He asked questions that apply at a broader level to everyone involved in organizational change. He argues that change begins at the personal level and needs to be practical, asking. “Where does change begin?” How can a context for changed be created? Should change in an organization begin within the organization or follow change that is happening in a larger context? Or is change complementary between the small and large?

I continued reading Peggy Holman’s Engaging Emergence. Her important reminder is: the pattern of change is that it increases with time. When we begin change, we are quick to measure progress or take the temperature of the organization every day or week. Constantly checking to see if change is happening can distract us from focusing effectively on the process or even stop us from persevering through the fallow ground of transition. Peggy gives the wonderful example of the transition from snail mail to e-mail. It took a number of years for our primary communication mode to change. The shift happened in fits and starts, asking us to change our own patterns and assumptions along the way. Yet the pattern holds, change requires time and the amount of change increases with time.

Finally, on our Quivera adventure, Jon and I began a discussion about “transformational space”. My first reaction to reading this phrase was, “Oh no, another business buzz phrase.” But Stephen Cope , a psychologist writing about stress-reduction, uses it to further challenge my thinking about the need to intentionally create spaces where change can occur more easily. This topic deserves, and will get, its own post. But the question stands, what impact does the way we setup meeting and training rooms or work spaces have on how we engage with each other in the change process?

Here are more questions than answers. But, I find the questions worth pondering.

The view from the middle

When I start a new project, all of the possibilities are ahead, full of energy and potential. The plan is pristine. The strategy carefully laid out. Then the hard work begins. And the hard work is interrupted by other projects, telephone calls to return, lunches to review other projects, and on … and on. Some of these interruptions are deadlines that must be met to deliver on time, keeping the business on track. Others are necessary for building relationships and ongoing work.

Skyscape VII

I can get to the end of a day or week, look back, and feel as though I haven’t finished anything. I’m in the middle – a wilderness where uncertainty and ambiguity reign.

Rosemary Kanter’s line is, “Everything can look like failure in the middle.”  In the middle of the wilderness I encounter obstacles, discover my assumptions are faulty, and can be tempted to give up. If I give into this temptation, I automatically fail. It is up to me to find a path around or through the obstacles – to persist and preserver.

Churchill’s quote comes to mind, “Never give in.” While I’m in the middle, I’ll keep the faith. Afterall, life itself is a work in progress. I’ll believe in the process and look forward to living into the outcome.

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