The 4 year old takes the pitcher of water in both hands and with as much focus as she can muster, tilts the pitcher and aims the stream of water into the glass. The last thing she wants to do is make a mess so she’s being really careful. It looks like she’s going to make it until the last second when a surprise ‘slosh’ of water jumps out of the pitcher and it’s more than the glass can handle. Water overflows from both the glass and her eyes.
I feel bad for the the little girl in this story and I made her up! We often work with leaders in organizations who are much like her. They really want to do the best for their team. They don’t want to make a mess so they are very deliberate about the changes they implement. Then, slosh! One unplanned change (new legislation, mandatory software version, employee turnover, etc.) causes their team to go into ‘change overflow’ mode.
In this recent post, I mentioned a major company whose employees “had to deal with approximately 250 changes per year.” If you’re implementing a change, how do you know the amount of changes those around YOU are facing? Organizations have a limited capacity for change. It’s like giving a patient medicine…essential at the recommended dosage limit, but beyond that potentially hazardous!
I’d propose that it’s worth your time for a quarterly review of the changes going on both inside and outside your organization. Just a quick list developed in a team meeting is enough. After a couple of times, you’ll be able to start seeing trends. How did we deal with the past quarter of change? Are there any lessons learned for the future?
You could even translate the feedback into an understanding of your organization’s ‘ability to absorb change’. Are we a yellow in change capacity because of recent benefits changes? Maybe we’re a red because of an unplanned change in import/export laws?
Within a year you’ll have a great feeling for the capacity of your organization to change and you’ll begin leaving some bandwidth for those unexpected ‘sloshes’!
School vacations in France. A time to unplug and get out of town for a few days before jumping back into school and work with both feet! We had only been in France for about 5 weeks so we weren’t ready for an epic trip and we were missing some American staples (Mexican food, bagels, …) so why not take a trip to Paris and explore the American food scene there?
The day before our trip, the fine folks at the SNCF (French Rail) decided to strike so our planned train trip became a car trip. A bit of a bummer BUT, we could use that as a reason to visit the American amusement park just outside of Paris known for its special brand and ability to bring people in from all around every weekend. That’s right, we were heading to Costco!
We were at the Greenville, SC Costco at least every 2 weeks to buy milk, Nesquik, giant bags of chips, and gas. Since the trip to Costco France was long and we were still waiting on our container (and our Yeti), there were some things we couldn’t easily buy (looking at you refrigerated items…). However, we were excited to check out the store and see if it was worth a return trip once we were in our permanent apartment.
As soon as we pulled around the traffic circle and saw the enormous building, it was clear that we were ‘home’. Work was underway to put in a gas station but no timeline was available.
After parking (in the massive, American sized, parking lot) we got a cart. Not just any old European cart that takes a Euro to get it and you can’t steer worth crap. No, a real cart with back wheels that only move in a straight line! Yes!
One important difference to note before we got inside. Our dear Costco on Woodruff Road took about 10 minutes and cost us less than 50 cents in gas to visit (not including the membership fee – a gift from Michelin). The Costco in France…
- ~75 Euros in gas
- 75.60 EUR in tolls
- 3h 45 min in the car
- …and that was before we bought a thing!
Thanks to our friends at the SNCF, those were sunk costs for us but still, something to consider before making a visit.
A few of the ‘Costco standards’ that we saw throughout the store:
- Person at the front door in a red vest with a clicker to track the number of guests
- Bunch o’ deals and TVs just after the front door
- Massive quantities of chocolate chips, toilet paper, and real American peanut butter
- Cash registers galore
There were certainly some things that we were hoping to find that we couldn’t – Log Cabin syrup (but they did have 100% maple syrup), Kind and/or Lara bars and skim milk are a few examples. That being said, we were pretty excited with lots of the things we DID find!
- Boxed Mac and Cheese (not Kraft but still…)
- Bacon (we’re coming back for you)
- Mozzarella sticks (coming back for you too…)
- Brownie Mixes
- Tortilla Chips
- Pancake Mix
After the shopping was over, it was time for a visit to the food court for some real, honest to goodness Costco pizza! They had Pepsi (just like in the US) but they continued the French tradition of ensuring you don’t drink too much sugar by limiting you to one serving of Pepsi. Come on French government, if you’re going to allow people to smoke everywhere like chimneys, let the rest of us drink as much Coke as we want!
As we were walking out, there was a standard display of Michelin tires greeting you followed by the classic Costco receipt checker (unfortunately, our kids are too old to solicit the smiley faces any more). After loading up the car, it was time to head home but fear not outpost of amazing, American sized stuff in the middle of France, we’ll be back!
Our family recently relocated from the US to France and has been experiencing A LOT of change!
- Live out of suitcases for 58 days and counting? Check.
- Two first days of school in two different countries? Check.
- 10 different cars in 4 months? Check.
In the middle of all of this change, I read this interesting article on our bandwidth to handle change and was shocked by these two sentences:
“Consider a leading global wealth manager whose employees, we recently found, had to deal with approximately 250 changes per year. These included operating model changes; new leadership structures; new productivity procedures in areas such as travel booking, digitized financial planning, and HR; new enterprise resource systems; agile ways of working such as sprints; and new legal and risk requirements and compliance procedures.“
Holy smokes, 250 changes per year! I bet that’s true for most of us. Just take a minute to think about it… benefits changes, staffing changes, position responsibility changes, organizational changes IT systems, physical moves, etc. The article doesn’t clearly state this but I would guess their research doesn’t account for changes outside of work like kids moving grades, aging parents, new neighbors, etc.
I know it’s true that I fail to account for the ‘other’ changes going on when I am pushing ‘my’ change effort. With this newfound understanding, I want to start thinking about capacity for change like a bucket of water. When the bucket is full, it doesn’t matter how much effort we put into a great communication plan or training module, there’s just no room!
How full is your bucket? What about the bucket of the people you are working with?
The setting sun made the sky look like a painting and several groups of people watched from the summit of the mountain. As soon as the sun slipped below the horizon, most of the groups began packing up their blankets and cameras, ready for the short hike back to the parking lot. A hearty few stayed at the top and prepared to spend the night in one of the darkest places in the Carolinas.
As I started cooking my dinner, a colony of bats flew overhead, eating their meal on the ‘fly’. The night closed in and the stars started peeking out. The couple beside me started playing country music on a small speaker…and I don’t like country music! (bluegrass on the other hand…) A family camped on my left and the daughter gave everyone within hearing distance a play by play of her trip away from the tent. WAIT! Didn’t I come out here to get away from annoyances like bad music and oversharing?
After a few minutes of focusing on the negative, I realized that I could choose to focus on the amazing (the Milky Way emerging) or the annoying (see previous list). It doesn’t seem like choosing and focusing is a superpower but it was for me that night and I’d propose that it can be for you too!
- Got a million things to do? Set a timer on your phone for 20 minutes (my variation on the Pomodoro Technique) and try to finish just 1 of them. The momentum will carry your forward to the next thing (and the next, and the next…).
- Surrounded by negative people? Find just one thing to compliment and go out of your way to focus on it all day long. You’ll feel better about where you are, even if the environment doesn’t change
- Really hate your situation? Take some advice from former Secretary of State Colin Powell – “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier”. Finding just one thing to focus on and be positive about can completely change your perspective.
After a breezy, star-filled night, a group of college students traipsed through my campsite about 5:30 am, preparing to watch the sun rise over the North Carolina mountains. Once again, I had to decide if it was more important to be annoyed by the intrusion or watch an amazing, daily event that we often take for granted. I chose to focus on the amazing that morning.
What will you choose to focus on today?
Imagine you’ve spent a nice day building a sandcastle at the beach. After several hours, you’ve got something to be proud of but you know that the rising tide or just one big wave will wipe out all of your work.
Now imagine that you’ve spent a nice 10 years building a career. After years of hard work, you’re proud of where you are and what you’ve done. But what’s that out in the ocean? It’s a wave of change…and it’s coming straight for your ‘sandcastle’! You worry it will wipe out all you have worked for and woosh….suddenly you’re in a new role in a new department and you’ve got to start all over.
This article on approaching change like a skill instead of an event got me to thinking about some of the companies I’ve worked with. Employees at newer and smaller companies expect and even welcome changes…at the expense of their sandcastles getting destroyed on a regular basis. On the other hand, employees at older, larger companies have gotten used to building their sandcastles on the shore of the lake…where there is no tide and only the occasional pontoon boat makes a ripple.
If you’ve built your sandcastle at the lake over decades with detailed ramparts and moats, a wave of change (which will inevitably come) is a huge disaster! How will you ever get all of those grains of sand back in place? It feels like a hopeless cause…and that’s a good thing.
Wait, what!? How can the destruction of my years of hard work be a good thing? Well, I have a dirty little secret to pass along…your castle was probably outdated! I know turrets and moats were all the rage 20 years ago but since then we’ve created security cameras that can warn you when there’s any motion outside…and installing one of those in your sandcastle would take A LOT of work. Even though the change is painful, it’s an opportunity.
Like those famous sandy philosophers, The Beach Boys, said, “Catch a wave (of change) and you’ll be sitting on top of the world!” It is a difficult thing when something that you’ve worked hard on suddenly changes. If you can treat those changes as opportunities, you’ll see the waves of change NOT as sandcastle destroying opportunities but a chance to learn something new…surfing!
Since 1995 (how can that be!) the Toy Story movies have given us a window into the ‘secret life of toys’. The movies are very effective at reminding us of the simple joys of childhood using some very adult storylines. This group of friends learns they can count on each other through thick and thin as they work through jealousy (Toy Story), abduction (Toy Story 2), and betrayal (Toy Story 3). Pretty heavy stuff for a ‘kids’ movie!
The cast of characters spans the toy world and includes some common personality traits that we see all around us. Rex, the dinosaur is always anticipating the worst. Slinky, the dog, is laid back and calm. Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head are a classic ‘old married couple’. However, when it comes to organizational change, two characters are great examples of typical responses you may see:
•Woody, the cowboy, does NOT like change. He’s happy with the status quo, thank you very much, and doesn’t see any need to do things differently. His motto could be ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’!
•Buzz Lightyear, Space Ranger, is the face of change. He’s never met a problem he couldn’t solve or a challenge too difficult. His personal motto, “To infinity, and beyond!” shows us that he’ll always be reaching for the stars.
If you take just a minute, I’m sure you can identify at least one Woody and one Buzz in your team…maybe even by looking in the mirror! How do you use these mindsets to help you make a change?
If you’ve got a “Woody”, recognize that you may never have them fully supporting your change. You can help them see the benefits while also appreciating their perspective and trying to move them to ‘neutral’. However, if you can get a skeptic like Woody to support your idea, expect many others to follow!
A “Buzz” can be a challenge as well. They may be so passionate about moving to ‘the new thing’ that they steamroll everyone in their path. Harness their energy by helping them see everyone’s perspective and the challenges ahead. Then use them as sympathetic evangelists of the change throughout the organization.
When it’s time for a change in your organization, take a look around you to find both Woody and Buzz. Once you’ve identified them, you can use their unique strengths to help your change “reach for the sky”!
photo credit: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/783510
Over 14,000 General Motors employees will soon experience a major change…but other factors will account for their perception of it
It’s very challenging for organizations to implement necessary changes without alienating their employees. According to the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory, changes at work are as stressful as the birth of a new child and more stressful than the death of a close friend!
In a recent course on “Leading Change” we discussed the Kübler-Ross model of emotions experienced by terminally ill patients. That model uses five stages to explain what is often called the ‘change curve’: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. During the course, we had an excellent discussion that, as humans, we may be on many ‘change curves’ at one time.
For example, someone who has experienced an emotional family issue may be in the bargaining phase for that change while they are also in the depression phase about a personal injury. Those changes already underway multiply the effect of a major change at work (like the layoff of 14,000 co-workers).
General Motors has a significant challenge ahead…not only with the impacted employees but also with stakeholders like the media and government. It’s important for them to remember that everyone affected will see the change through the lens of the changes they are ALREADY going through.
That also means some groups of stakeholders will arrive in the acceptance phase sooner than others. GM can take advantage of those early adopters to influence the rest of the population. We’ll all be watching their progress closely.
photo credit: wikimedia
RULE IV: Innovation requires a good idea, initiative and a few friends.
In my last post on Change Ninjas we talked about the benefit of blending in to the organization and timing your advocacy of change. However, you can’t do it alone.
I recently worked with an organization that wanted to see a significant culture change but didn’t have full time resources to dedicate to it. One person was clearly interested in being a ‘ninja’ and knew that they couldn’t do it alone…so where could they find partners?
Just like the historic ninjas, this Change Ninja quickly formed a “dojo” of allies from several areas of the organization and the team began to sketch out the future state of the change and the steps needed to get there. When choosing ‘dojo members’, they followed Shepard’s advice:
“Like the change agent, partners must be relatively autonomous people. Persons who are authority-oriented—who need to rebel or to submit—are not reliable partners; the rebels take the wrong risks and the good soldiers don’t take any.”
If you’re trying to inspire change, find people who are like minded (regardless of where they are in the organization), get them together, and get to work!
Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dojo.png
Herb Shepard directed the first doctoral program focused on successful organizational change and performance. In 1975, he published “Rules of Thumb for Change Agents” which have held up surprisingly well to the test of 40+ years of time. Let’s take a look at one of them.
RULE I: Stay alive.
Organizations are designed to deliver results but the world is changing around them. When change is triggered externally, most organizations find struggle to find the right people to help them respond. So, when a few brave souls take up the mantle of ‘change agent’ you would think that they would be celebrated…but that’s not usually the case. “Antibodies” in the organization, often at the middle management level, attack the internal change by convincing those who will listen why ‘it’s not a good idea’ and ‘things are fine just the way they are’.
How do you survive the attacks from those internal antibodies? Become a Change Ninja…wait, a what!?!
The two main roles of historic ninjas were espionage and strategy. Change Ninjas gather intelligence about the organization around them and figuring out ways (a.k.a. strategies) to influence the organization (most often indirectly). After peacefully living in the current system, Change Ninjas can jump out of their camouflaged position once opposition to change has been reduced.
Some budget is available? Shed the camouflage and make a strong case for directing it toward the growth project. A team needs a new member? Make sure to nominate someone who is sympathetic to the changes that need to take place.
Why the camouflage? Shepard says it best. He “counsels against self sacrifice on behalf of a cause that you do not wish to be your last.” Risks are necessary but make sure that they are “taken as part of a purposeful strategy of change, and appropriately timed and hedged. When they are taken under such circumstances, one is very much alive.”
When you need to make a major change, become a Change Ninja and live to fight another day!
Need some ‘Introduction to Change Ninja training’? Johannes Mutzke and I will be teaching a our Leading Change class in the Upstate of South Carolina on November 13. More information is available here and you can register here. Would love to see you there!
Not in the Greenville, SC area? Check out my book on the three types of people that are key to every change.
Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/ninja-laptop-typing-notebook-155848/
Is helping others change an art or a science?
I think it’s both! I recently spent a few minutes talking with Jeff Skipper of the Association of Change Management about the Certified Change Management Professional™ (CCMP™) certification. I was beta participant and one of the first 75 people in the world to obtain complete the coursework pass the test, and become certified.
Interested in more information? Check out the video of our discussion!