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If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times:  "I don't care if [co-worker/subordinate/colleague] doesn't like me - I'm not here to make friends.  I'm here to make money."

While it's true that you don't have to be - and probably shouldn't be - best friends with the people you manage in the workplace, the reality is that it's hard to make a lot of money if everyone you work with thinks you're a jerk.  Take a look at the most successful people you know, and you'll see that 95% of the time, those people are experts at building positive professional relationships.

Why are good relationships so important?  For some roles, good relationships have obvious benefits:  Salespeople, for example, do best when they are adept at building positive, long-term relationships with almost everyone they encounter.  They'll sell more when they develop strong relationships with their clients; they'll get better access to those clients when they develop friendly relationships with their clients' gatekeepers (such as receptionists, assistants, etc.); and they'll have better success at keeping those clients when they build good relationships with the people responsible for post-sale customer service within their own organization.

But cohesive relationships deliver benefits to people in non-sales roles, as well - and in all kinds of ways.  Good relationships mean:

  • Your initiatives are more readily championed by people outside your department
  • Your particular area of expertise is accorded more respect within the organization (this is particularly valuable for roles in areas like HR or marketing, which are often not taken seriously by counterparts in the purchasing or finance departments)
  • Your subordinates are more willing to go the extra mile to support your initiatives or goals
  • You're more likely to get promoted because you're perceived as a 'team player' who can build consensus - and get things done

...all of which contribute to your stated goal of 'making more money'.

(Yes, there are some independent geniuses who manage to become successful despite having difficulty building positive professional relationships.  But how likely is it that you're the next Steve Jobs?)

So how can you ensure that you're building good relationships in the workplace, without spending your whole day chit-chatting with co-workers?  Just follow some simple guidelines:

Understand how you're being perceived.  I've worked with many people who think they're well-liked by co-workers and subordinates - but who are actually regarded as being aloof or overbearing.  You may think that your refusal to join the team for a Friday lunch makes you look like a hard worker, but the reality may be that it's making you look like you don't like anyone you work with.  Ask a trusted colleague or two for some honest feedback.

See the other side.  The best investment you can make in building relationships is to take the time to see the world from others' point of view.  Before you dismiss an idea or proposal, consider where the idea is coming from.  Is it possible that the person putting forth the proposal is seeing things from a new - and different - perspective?  Taking the time to put yourself in someone else's shoes may yield a fantastic insight or opportunity.  At the very least, it'll make you look like the kind of person who is interested in others - and that's an excellent way to build relationships.

Positive feedback is more effective than negative confrontation.  Almost everyone works better - and harder - when they feel they're being appreciated rather than horsewhipped into compliance.  Criticism doesn't deliver better results, and it doesn't provide the opportunity for the kind of positive interactions that lead to strong relationships.  And a sincere 'thank you' for a job well done will be remembered for longer than you think.

Be generous.  Doing a favor for a colleague today - whether it's spending a little extra time to put together some numbers for a project they're working on, or agreeing to provide a college reference for their son or daughter - may not deliver an ROI in the short term, but are the building blocks of a strong long-term relationship that can deliver tremendous benefits down the line.

Remember, your career is a long-term endeavor, and your professional world is smaller than you think.  Investing in positive relationships is a little like making sure you save a little bit of your salary every month:  it doesn't seem like much on a daily basis, but over time it adds up and makes a huge difference.

In our previous posts on Positive Psychology, we talked about what positive psychology really is, and how it's important when you're thinking about change, and about neuroplasticity and how it affects the way we learn.

Today we're going to look at how this applies to the motivation to change.

motivation to change

Neural pathways by any other name...

All organizations have neural pathways - but we call them 'processes' or 'the way we do things around here'.  As with neural pathways, processes tend to be self-reinforcing.  That may be because they're official and written down, or because they are part of the unwritten, accepted culture - but they're still self-reinforcing.  When they're working well, they become stronger and that can be a good thing for the organization, but they can make it harder to change something which is entrenched within the organization.

Motivation to Change

Dr. Ellen Langer, a noted Positive Psychologist, conducted a study in which she asked study participants if they wanted to change from being rigid, gullible or grim.  She asked each participant if they valued consistency, trusting and seriousness - and those who said yes had the most difficulty changing.  This is because thought I might say I don't want to be so rigid, if I value consistency it will be hard for me to really want to change - my desire to become less rigid is fighting with my desire for consistency.  So I need to learn to distinguish between the positive and negative parts of the characteristic before I can begin to make any changes.  In other words, I need to unbundle rigidity and consistency if I hope to make a substantive change. 

Motivation to change starts with having some feelings about what I want to change.  Studies show that without emotions we cannot act.  Do my feelings, divided by perceived effort, equal at least 1?  If the perceived effort is greater than the emotions I feel and the equation is less than one, I will not act.

In 1965, Dr. Howard Leventhal and associates conducted a study in which researchers tried to get students to get their tetanus shot.  At first there was no reaction.  Then they increased the emotional component:  They showed students pictures of people who hadn't had a tetanus shot and what had happened to them.  Some students were motivated to take action, but most did not.  Then researcheers demonstrated the reduced effort it would take to get the shot - on one flyer they included the location of the clinic, the hours of operation, and even the phone number.  Only then did they get a large response.  By lowering the perceived effort required to get the shot, the researchers finally got students sufficiently motivated to take action.

The second component of motivation to change is recognizing the need to change.  This only happens when we take responsibility for our actions, rather than blaming others.  For example, if the attitude within the workplace is "I couldn't get that done because I didn't have enough lead time and then I didn't have the right tools to get the job done," then it's hard to drive change because no one feels responsible for the process or the outcome.  On the other hand, if the attitude within the organization encourages a more positive approach - "If I need better tools to get the job done, it's my responsibility to request those tools" - then it's easier to recognize the need to change.

The third component of motivation to change is believing change is possible.  Whether I do or don't, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If I have a growth mindset - if I think that we (the organization and I) can grow, change and adapt - then it will happen.  At the same time, if I feel that it's not possible, it won't happen.  A growth mindset can be taught:  Talking about neuroplasticity can help, and fostering a workplace culture that values and encourages growth and development will also make a difference.  But like all organizational neural pathways, these mindsets have to be reinforced.


NEXT:  Part IV - Implications for Organizations

Saturday, 18 May 2013 04:04

Change Management: The Zombie Apocalypse


IT has almost killed change management - but it's had help

So the other day I read a funny-because-it's-true piece over on Toby Elwin's blog:  "Change management is dead - the rumor". 

Toby writes:

"OK, Information Technology, you win.  You can have it.  You've ruined it beyond all recognition anyway.  Only left me a shell of a concept that, at one point, had so much to offer an organization.  The 'it' I longingly refer to: change management and today change management is dead because the I and T of Information Technology has killed it."

Change management isn't quite dead, yet, but it's starting to look like Shaun of the Dead out there, and IT had a lot to do with it, especially when it comes to technology-related projects.  However, IT wasn't alone:  Companies, looking for an easy way to 'transform' their organizations without having to spend money on the messy transformation of actual 'people', have a lot to answer for as well - and their culpability extends well beyond the technology-related change initiatives.


Organizations talk a lot about how people are their 'most important asset', but it's funny how when it comes to enterprise change, their often reluctant to spend money on the expertise to manage the people component of that change.  Which is odd, because when you think about it, it doesn't matter how great your new systems are - if your people aren't ready to make the shift to them, they aren't going to deliver the value you were hoping for.

Mind you, IT has been an accomplice in this process.  IT consultants tend to think that if the technical specs and Gantt charts are mapped out in sufficient detail, the people piece will magically follow.  The "and then a miracle occurs and it works!" line in the project plan.  Except that people are more emotional than Gantt charts and mostly don't care about the delights of a new relational database.  They tend to need a little more communication, a little more training, and a little more engagement than even the best GUI can offer in order to successfully navigate a change.

Are people even included in the diagram?

I can't even tell you the number of times I've sat in a boardroom listening to C-suite execs tell me how frustrated they are with the fact that the last 3 technology-related 'transformations' have been a disaster and failed to deliver the ROI they'd promised at the outset.

And then they show me the diagram that the IT department/consulting firm gave them, and I see the problem:  There's no 'people' component.  The diagram usually looks something like this:

ridiculous venn diagram change management


When there's more time allocated to bug testing than to ensuring that the end users not only know how to use the system, but have fully engaged with the change and are equipped to get the most out of it, it's no wonder that the 'transformation' never delivers the promised ROI.

Successful Change = People + Process + Technology

In an effort to drive ROI, there's a push to commoditize change - and assume the people are mindless zombies who will fall in line when the launch happens. 

It's easy to say that the problem is that IT types don't 'get' people, but I think it's more helpful to remember that successful change is a combination of People + Process + Technology.  The IT team - and the organization - knows they need specialzed Technology and Process experts.  They just often forget that they need specialized People experts, too.






The situation:

A large pharmaceutical organization needed to implement a new selling model across a sales force of approximately 2000 people - without negatively impacting sales volume, even in the short term.

Several disparate sales teams representing different geographical regions were being combined to form one unified sales force.  Because individual sales force identity was very strong - sometimes even stronger than company brand identity - in the field, and the management structure was going to change significantly, this represented a major shift in the way the company handled its sales.

merging teams change management


The sales force was selling a commodity product in a highly competitive industry, which meant that even small changes to territories, processes or structure had historically led to significant drops in sales volume.  Additionally, because the sales force was large and spread across the country, changes could mean months of administrative disarray - which also led to steep declines in revenue.

Since this new selling model would include both territory and field structure changes, the risks were particularly high for this change initiative.


We recommended a 3-part approach:

  • A change communication plan focused on the role of senior management and senior field management
  • A change and transition plan including an indentity merger component, including a contest to come up with a name for the new, unified team
  • A management training plan focused on how field managers could handle the change effectively


  1. The change communication plan employed several different types of feedback loops, which encouraged all team members to participate effectively - which in turn created a positive business climate for the changes, in which junior sales force team members were set good examples by senior leadership
  2. The contest to choose a new name for the unified team drove healthy competition across regions, which fostered maintenance of sales volumes while emphasizing the 'one team' message
  3. The management training plan gave managers the tools to identify and understand where employees were in the change cycle and how to move employees through the process without negatively impacting sales volume

In the end, the majority of the sales force - from senior management to junior salespeople - thought the change was 'no big deal'.  In fact, even though the change represented quite a shift in the way the business managed sales, it was executed in a way that allowed people to move into the new selling environment without missing a beat.

Sales remained constant throughout the realignments, and even increased in some areas.  Sales management reported improved communication and increased morale across the entire sales force.  Sales in the first year following the change remained constant with no decline, and increased by 15% in the following year - which exceeded pre-change expectations.


Last time, we talked about what positive psychology really is, and how it's important when you're thinking about change in large organizations.

Today we're going to look at neuroplasticity.

What is neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity is one of those five-dollar words that actually has a straightforward meaning:  From 'neural' (pertaining to the nerves) and 'plastic' (changeable), it refers to the brain's capacity to change on a physiological level.  In other words, neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to form new neural connections.

It's these new neural connections which allow us to learn, think or do new things.  It's what allows a baby to learn to walk and talk, and what allows a person who's suffered a stroke to relearn to walk and talk.  Neuroplasticity enables us to change habits, to learn new languages, and to learn new information.

Neural pathways are channels in our brain, sort of like roadways.  They're created and sustained through our experiences.  Used often, the roadways stay wide and open; used less often, the roadways become narrow and less easy to traverse.  These neural roadways are created through experience:  A new neural pathway will be narrow, reflecting the beginning of a new experience, while a wider neural pathway indicates a more mature, more-used experience, like a habit or a customary way we consider information.

Neural pathways are self-reinforcing:  The more you use them, the wider and more entrenched they become.  This is good news if we want to continue that pathway without having to think about it too much - but it's bad news if we want to change in some way.

The problem is that some of our neural pathways are negative, like if we're constantly criticizing or finding fault with ourselves or others, or if we're always worrying.  The more we worry, the more we strengthen these negative pathways, and the more difficult it becomes to change those pathways.

On the other hand, a positive neural pathway is where positive habits, like looking on the bright side or making positive choices, come into play.  Luckily, these positive pathways can be equally strong as the negative ones.

What does this mean for change and change management?

Understanding the way our brain creates and sustains these neural pathways helps us to create and sustain change on a personal level.  If we're a 'fault finder' but want to become a 'benefit finder', we need to find a way to shrink the 'fault finder' neural pathways and expand the 'benefit finder' neural pathways - we have to block the negative roadway while widening the positive one.  Just as roadbuilding isn't fast or easy, neither is neural change - it takes time and concerted effort.

This has implications for both the individual and the organization.  Brain lock is signified as a deep-rooted neural pathway.  For individuals, these  pathways can manifest as obsessive-compulsive disorder.  For organizations, these pathways - also known as 'processes' - can be what makes change difficult or impossible.


NEXT:  Part III - Motivation to Change



Most change management initiatives start with needing the answer to a specific business question, like "How do we get ahead of our competitors?" or "How can we reduce costs while increasing productivity?"

These questions can seem straightforward from a business perspective:  Questions about getting ahead of the competition or improving the bottom line appear to be rooted in solid business imperatives and designed to deliver a demonstrable ROI.

However, the truth is that a question like "How do we get ahead of our competitors?" is much broader than it first appears - which means that the answer isn't nearly as simple as you'd think it should be.  After all, your competitors may be doing all kinds of things better than your organization:  Maybe they have better economies of scale, or better patents, lower prices, better customer service, a bigger marketing budget - the list of possibilities is virtually endless.  Suddenly, trying to answer a 'simple' question becomes a whole lot more complex.

But maybe the problem isn't finding the answer, but asking the right question in the first place.

In the late 1980s, British Airways was in trouble.  Recently privatized and struggling to compete with the new Virgin Atlantic Airways, BA needed to rehabilitate its image and win back brand loyalty.  After several years of trying to answer the wrong question - which got them in a lot of legal hot water - they finally changed the question.

Instead of asking themselves "How do we beat Virgin Atlantic?", they asked "How can we give travellers a fantastic flying experience with BA?"

So while Virgin was still talking lower prices and no-frills travel, BA sought to bring back the glamour and romance of flying, injecting more emotion into the experience.  Those of you of a certain age will no doubt remember this famous commercial, which won all kinds of awards at the time:


Service was improved, meals were upgraded, staff were trained to be more entrepreneurial - and soon, customers were less concerned about saving $20 on their flight and more interested in how comfortable that flight would be.

The result?  By 1990, British Airways was one of the most profitable airlines in the world, even as other airlines were struggling to stay afloat.

The lesson?  When you're struggling to come up with the right change strategy, it may be time to reconsider the question that got you thinking about change in the first place.  BONUS TIP:  Questions that may not look particularly ROI-related at the outset may, in fact, be the questions that have the most effect on the bottom line in the end.


Bring up the subject of 'positive psychology' in a roomful of hard-nosed business types and you'll almost always get the same reaction:  A whole lot of rolled eyes and possibly the assumption that you shouldn't have been let into the room in the first place, what with your dangerous hippy notions and all.

But as many of today's most successful businesses - think Google, Apple, Virgin Mobile - have discovered, positive psychology can have a huge impact on the bottom line, especially over the long-term.  In this series, we examine what positive psychology really is, how it affects change, and how businesses can benefit from a better understanding of positive psychology in the workplace.

Why positive psychology?

Today's 24-hour news cycle means that we're being bombarded with 'negative' messages all the time, from global warming and world hunger to slow economies and political dictatorships.  

What we hear less about are the world leaders, business leaders and scientists who are trying - and succeeding - to make a difference even in the face of all this negativity.  And I tend to think that we can learn just as much from these successes as we can from a steady diet of negative stories.

Positive psychology was born out of a desire to stop focusing only on the negative while recognizing that we may have just as much to learn from positivity and success as we do from negativity and failures.

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology is the science of human flourishing.  It was started in response to what psychology had become, at least in the United States:  The study of problems, failures and disease.  Though it has roots in the 1950s, Dr. Martin Seligman is credited with popularizing positive psychology in the late 1990s.

Dr. Seligman began by asking "Why are we only studying problems, instead of also studying what makes people successful?"  What makes people flourish?  What makes them happy?  Instead of asking "what's wrong?", why not ask "what's right?"

What does positive psychology have to do with change?

When we start thinking of positive psychology in terms of how humans are successful, the connection to change (and therefore change management) becomes more obvious.  Change management practitioners spend a lot of time examining why change fails, but you can't be successful by focusing only on what could make you fail.  Positive psychology suggests that a more productive approach might be to examine how and why change is successful - the idea being that positivity begets positivity, which is particularly important within large and changing organizations.


NEXT:  Part II - Neuroplasticity

Page 8 of 10


Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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