change management

whose policy is it, anyway?

Had a great conversation the other night with a friend about making organizations flatter and removing the barriers to people doing great work. It’s easy for me to get pretty excited and idealistic about the shift I see happening in companies and the future of work. I was brought down to earth with the memory of a silly process that stayed in place because it existed but no one knew who was responsible for it.

Several years ago a CFO complained about a form used by his accounting department to track training expenses. It was intended to make sure that employees weren’t going on some sort of training spending spree (does that happen?) by requiring several levels of approval before they were able to attend the training.

The reality was NO ONE filled it out in advance. They only completed it when accounting started calling well after the fact and insisting on it to justify the expenses. Plus, it applied equally to all “training” from attending a lunch at a professional organization to a multiple day program across the country. And, many of the people who had to fill it out had company credit cards and discretionary funds – I suspect they simply got around completing the form by not calling it “training”.

So here was the CFO griping that he had to complete a form that he thought was ridiculous and stupid. Although it was a training form, it never passed through anyone responsible for training so it was a form that only his department used. Think about that again. His department’s form. He thinks it’s stupid. He could kill it on the spot. But rather than risk eliminating it (who would protest?), he complained and let it continue. I’ve no doubt he is still complaining about it today.

Stories like that make me think the organization of the future is just a little bit further away than I want to imagine.

What thinks you?

not another post on change

Change has been on my mind lately. Judging by recent posts from other bloggers, I’m not alone. Change is everywhere, every day, always happening, yet handling and managing change is a persistent issue.

Connie Podesta jokes that she has a four-word workshop to help people in organizations through periods of difficult change. Here it is in its entirety: “Change. Deal with it.” Funny and true in the sense that there will always be change so we might as well just get on with our lives.

Perhaps change isn’t the real issue, though. What if it’s the uncertainty of the situation? The Holmes-Rahe Scale rates life changes on a scale of 1 – 100 in terms of the amount of stress (or “life crisis units) caused. Interestingly, many of the events are differentiated based the size of change and not on whether it’s perceived as good or bad. That is, “major business readjustment” is the same amount of stress whether you’re benefiting or not. Same for “major change in responsibilities at work”. Same for “change in work hours or conditions”. Same for “major change in living conditions”. In fact, “taking on a significant mortgage” is listed as slightly more stressful than “foreclosure of mortgage or loan”. Good or bad doesn’t seem to enter into it as much as how significant the event is.

The more significant the event, the less certain we are about how it’s going to turn out, and the more we worry about the change. Changing offices is probably not a big deal. But a big promotion pushing us beyond our comfort zone really is. So is discovering you’re now in a completely different section of the org chart.

Consider this: the people initiating change have often been thinking and debating changes for weeks or months. They’ve processed the advantages and disadvantages and understand the whys and needs inside and out. Then it all too often gets foisted on the rest of the organization and everyone is expected to fully and immediately support the changes.

None of this is to say “don’t change”. Change needs to happen, but change is never without cost or challenges. Jon Bartlett urges us to consider the real human cost to change. People are not cogs or Lego blocks that can be removed, moved around, tossed aside, or recombined instantly and without effect. Even when change is good, even when necessary, us humans need time.

We talk about managing change, but how different would things be if leaders concentrated on managing uncertainty instead of change? The change would still be there, but I suspect we’d start focusing more on communication. We’d involve people sooner, explain the whys and hows, give them time to process and ask questions, and provide clear and consistent (and accurate and true) messages throughout. We’d make sure people knew where they stood and what to expect. We all know how important it is for US to know what’s going on, yet so often don’t do a good job of communicating to OTHERS. Robin Schooling recently explained this so well when she described the ONLY excuse for poor internal communication (hint: you don’t care about the impact).

Why does all this matter? Why can’t we simply expect employees to be adults and deal with change? One reason: the most talented people always have options. People with options don’t have to suffer poor treatment, half-thought through plans, or command and control temper tantrums. Whit at HR Hardball said it well: “Strong swimmers are the first to jump ship.


change keeps on changing

“…the core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people and behavior change happens… mostly by speaking to people’s feelings.” ~ John Kotter

We want to believe that us humans are rational beings governed by reason and logic. We really, really want to believe this, despite our entire life experience. As near as I can tell, the strongest thing we can say is that we have the capacity to be rational, but we use nearly all of that capacity to explain, rationalize, and justify the decisions we’ve made with feeling and emotion.

This concept has been studied and demonstrated for years. Advertisers know it and use it to their advantage. They create change by hooking us on feelings of fun, status, sex appeal, freedom, control, power, hope, fear, etc.

Rationally, we know that too much of anything is bad for us. So, if we made rational decisions, none of us would suffer from too much food, alcohol, smoking, etc. Emotion drives us to action, intellect justifies it and makes it reasonable.

There are exactly 1.7 bagillion books, articles, and classes on change and change management. Companies are in turmoil as they try to keep up with the world and the best ones are using change to their advantage to continually evolve.

The problem is that we fall for the myth of rationality and think that big change = analyze à think à change. We look at options, analyze the pros and cons of each, decide, and move forward. When we focus on speaking to emotions it becomes:  see à feel à change. We see or visualize the outcome, feel what it will be like once we have made the change, and then take action.

The problem is that both are an oversimplification and we are driven by both. Some people are more analytical, some are driven more by instinct and emotion, but we all have a deep need to understand the reason behind the change AND emotionally connect to the benefits of the change.

We need both to create the motivation for change in ourselves, in our teams, in our companies. So, what can we do to better address our intellectual and emotional needs around change?

Your take?


the secret behind persuasion, change management, and talk radio political debates

People don’t want to discover the best solution. They want to believe their solution is best. And they are very threatened by data, evidence, or thoughts suggesting otherwise.