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Wednesday, 05 December 2012 02:19

An Open Letter to the President

Dear President Obama:

Congratulations on winning the Presidency for another  4 years.

I know that one of your biggest challenges in the coming months will - once again - be to try to create a productive working relationship with the Republican Party.

A wise person once said to me:  "Do you want to be right, or do you want to make progress?"  I often wish someone would whisper that in the ears of some Senators and Congressmen, because being right doesn't solve the issues of the day - it just gives you an excuse to avoid progress while blaming the lack of it on someone else.

Steven Covey talked about finding the 'third way':  A better way than 'my way' or 'your way'.  It seems to me that this what you and Congress need to do together.  However, in order to do that, individuals need to decide that they'd rather make progress than be right.  Of course, that's a huge risk for some people:  They've made a career out of 'being right', their reputation and their self-esteem is tied to 'being right'.  Looking for that 'third way' forces them to let go of past beliefs and change the way they look at the world.  And that's scary.

It's an interesting thing about change:  We often don't believe we need to change, and we think that if we resist change often enough and loudly enough, the need for it will somehow go away.

Dr. Jeffery Schwartz, in his book Brain Lock, addresses this idea from the perspective of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).  He says that in order to unlock the brain and be free from OCD, new pathways must be formed in the brain.  IN many ways, our current government is suffering from 'brain lock' in that they continue to behave in the same ways, over and over again, and it's crippling - just as OCD can be crippling to an individual.

Dr. Schwartz offers a two-part process to help unlock the brain and create new pathways:

  1. Re-label the problem.  Instead of saying "I am right and I will not budge from my position", say "I think my position has merit, but it might not be the only way".
  2. Create a new path in the brain which refocuses on the positive.  Instead of "I need to get my way on this issue, because I am right", say "Lots of positions have merit.  What can we do together to move this country forward?"

Even getting one or two people to think - and speak - this way can go a long way in changing the current culture of Congress.  It's like throwing a pebble in a lake and watching the ripples:  Sometimes there are lots of ripples; sometimes only a few - but each changes the flow of the water for some period of time.

It seems to me that you see the problems in this country and want to fix them, and that's admirable.  But change is scary for most people, and even when they say they want it, they often mean they want to change others' lives, not their own.

Radical or transformational change often causes anxiety-related panic.  In institutions, this can trigger a step back into 'survival mode', in which the source of change itself is attacked.  The Healthcare Initiative is a good example of this:  The proposed changes benefit the average American, but insurance companies, faced with radical change, panicked and attacked.  The panic of the few (insurance companies) infected the many (average Americans) - and the changes began to seem a lot more scary than they needed to.

Connecting the dots - demonstrating that a change isn't really as radical as they think, and that it will have demonstrable benefits for the individual - for people is critical in times of change.  We often assume that people can connect their own dots, or that there aren't any dots to connect because it's so obvious and we think we'll insult people's intelligence if we connect the dots for them.  But helping people see how the future is connected to their present is one of the best ways to move change along - and that goes for the average person and for members of Congress.

Language as an underused tool

You've mentioned the difficulties people might need to move through in order to get to a great future.  People often don't want to hear that; they don't want to have to live through it - and they definitely don't want to hear about it from someone they think won't have to 'suffer' through it like they will.  When you use terms like 'tough choices' or 'challenging times', you're putting people back into Maslow's survival mode.  On the other hand, helping people envision the better future and walking them through the steps required to get there may keep them higher up on Maslow's hierarchy of needs - and keep them moving forward.

Positive psychology, the study of happiness, has an interesting take on the language we use to describe the everyday.  Instead of focusing on what isn't working, focus on what is working and build on that.  It may seem counterintuitive - and even pollyanna-ish - but it may deliver better results with your cabinet in the longer term.

I bet the majority of Americans don't know that the Healthcare Initiative you spearheaded and passed through Congress isn't actually called 'Obamacare' but in fact 'The Affordable Care Act'.  It's a great name, positive and descriptive, but no one uses it - not even people in your own party.

I realize I've touched on a lot of topics and I"ve oversimplified the challenges you face.  But I did that on purpose, because I find that for many organizations, the enormity of the change required can cause paralyzation and inaction.  By simplifying the challenge, they can find a way to take the first step - and the next, and the next.  What we face as a country is enormous but we need to take that first step.

I'm sure you don't need reminding that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  We can't afford another 4 years of that kind of insanity in Washington, and as the President, the country is looking to you to lead them into doing things differently to achieve different results.

I wish you the best of luck, and much success.


Beth Banks Cohn, PhD


Saturday, 28 July 2012 05:30

Change Management Works: Infographic


Good change management strategies increase ROI and help organizations achieve their objectives.  Here's an infographic to prove it.

change maangement beth banks cohn

In the movie Dead Poets Society, the teacher makes students stand on desks in order to change their perspectives.  I've used this tactic myself when a group seems 'stuck', and I have to say it works beautifully: It's amazing how doing something a little differently can lead to a positive change.

dead poets society standing on desks to make change

Maybe we need to do more of this with some of the societal problems whose solutions seem to elude us. Take Diabetes Self-Care, for example.

Diabetes is one of the biggest healthcare challenges facing the US at the moment, with more than 8% of Americans diagnosed with  Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.  In the 65+ age group, that number rises to 27%.  Worldwide, the WHO predicts diabetes to afflict as much as 10% of the population by 2025.  The result is enormous pressure on healthcare resources - and budgets.  In the UK, diabetes-related care already accounts for 10% of the total NHS budget.

Overall health - and quality of life - for people living with diabetes can be improved dramatically with efficient self-care, but as many as 75% of people with diabetes don't stick to the self-care plan provided by their doctors.  They don't exercise enough; they don't adhere to a low-glycemic diet; they don't take insulin when they should.

Hundreds of studies have been done in an effort to understand this non-compliance.  Some conclude that individuals' 'health beliefs' or lack of 'societal supports' are the problem.  Others suggest that it's a lack of numeracy or literacy that's getting in the way.  Still others find that the problem is that healthcare providers simply don't have the time to sufficiently educate patients.  No doubt these researchers are on to something. But in the meantime, maybe we need to stand on a few desks.

Maybe we need to stop spending so much time studying psychosocial behaviors and societal beliefs and external barriers to compliant self-care.  Maybe we need to look at a person's instincts and how that affects the way they approach their life in general, and their diabetes in particular.

Leveraging striving instincts to generate more effective results

At a recent conference, Kathy Kolbe - who has been studying conation (striving instincts) for more than 30 years - revealed that when a person strives in harmony with their instincts, their brain clearly shows minimal engagement with maximum results.  And the opposite is also true: When working against instincts, the brain is highly engaged but produces minimal results. Kolbe calls these striving instincts Action Modes®.  She considers these Action Modes to be 'talents'.

The Four Kolbe Action Modes are:

Fact Finder - how we gather and share information

Follow Thru - how we arrange and design

Quick Start - how we deal with risk and uncertainty

Implementor - how we handle space and tangible solutions

Each Action Mode has three operating zones: Prevent, Respond or Initiate.  We may initiate in Quick Start, respond in Follow Thru and Implementor and prevent in Fact Finder.  According to Kolbe, any possible combination creates a unique way in which we initiate actions, respond to opportunities or prevent problems.  The combination of the modes and zones makes up a person's MO (modus operandi).

How can we apply this to Diabetes Self-Care?

Imagine you've just been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and your doctor/healthcare team provides you with an approach which has been customized for your striving instincts.  Suddenly your self-care plan will require less energy while yielding better results.

Now we're standing on a desk!   Instead of the doctor wondering how to get you to comply with the required protocol, they approach you ready to engage your unique talents to effectively manage your own Diabetes Self-Care.

Using the Kolbe approach, your doctor knows your MO because, in addition to your blood tests, s/he also had you complete the Kolbe A instrument during your first office visit.  Now the whole staff - the doctor, the nurse practitioner or PA, the nutritionist, maybe the social worker - all know your talents and how you approach the world, and can tailor your self-care education process accordingly.  And now, managing your life with diabetes doesn't seem as difficult - because they're engaging you at your striving instinct level.

This is just my theory.  But maybe, instead of studying the same things over and over again hoping that we'll suddenly find the answer all the previous researchers have missed, we need to study this:  How can we make better use of our knowledge of how people interact with their world, via the Kolbe instrument, to make a huge difference in Diabetes Self-Care - and thereby prolong and save lives?




And maybe it's better that way.

It happens all the time:  I'm taking questions after a speaking engagement or meeting with senior leadership execs, and sooner or later someone says "I really want us to become like the Google of our industry!  How can we do that?"

you're not google change management

I understand the sentiment:  In just 14 years, Google has become the dominant player in search, online advertising and browsing; made smart decisions like YouTube and Blogger; and, perhaps most importantly, built revenues of $37 billion annually.  It's got a cool brand identity and its 'Don't Be Evil' mantra is a strong one.  It's hard to argue with that kind of success.

I agree that corporate culture - which Google has in spades - is a key driver of success.  It's natural to think you want to built an organization where there are free snacks for everyone, people bike around the 'campus', and you attract the best and brightest.

But Google is a high-tech company which lives and dies by maintaining a reputation for being right out there on the edge and filling their organization with hyper-creative people who are passionate about things like artificial intelligence, neuroscience and Raspberry PI.

These things aren't necessarily going to be achievable if you're in the business of organic food products or high-end home fashions, and in fact they may not be best goals for your business, either.

Here's why:

  1. Your people:  As we discussed the other day, different industries attract different types of people.  Unless your organization has a whole lot of eccentric, coffee-fuelled engineers and developers hanging around, trying to turn yourself into a Google Campus is going to be an exercise in futility
  2. Your industry:  Having a reputation for being cool and cutting-edge is great for a high-tech company like Google; it's less attractive for a company in the business of making baby products, where a more traditional, family-oriented feel is more appropriate
  3. Your business goals:  It's tempting to want to be a $37 billion organization - but that was never Google's sole goal and it shouldn't be yours.  Make sure you have solid business goals that make sense for your organization and the vision you are trying to achieve, and the money will follow
  4. Your marketplace:  An organic foods company which seems to spend more time on building profits and achieving world domination than on promoting healthy eating is soon going to find they've lost credibility with their target audience (see my note above about your business)
  5. Your history:  Google was able to start from scratch with a very specific vision.  If you've already been in business for 25+ years, with an established culture, brand and place in the market, trying to shoehorn your organization into a whole new mold may not be the best use of your resources.

If you want to encourage the qualities you admire in Google, like following a compelling vision or encouraging employees to be passionate about their work, I'm all for it.

But the most successful organizations, like Google - the ones which lead their industries - are ones which are realistic about their culture, their business goals, their people and their marketplace.  The beest way to 'be like Google' is to try to be the best in your field - not the best in someone else's.








You chose your people because they love structure.
Don't expect them to love change, too.

Scarcely a day goes by that I don't read another article about the benefits of entrepreneurial thinking in the workplace and how fantastic it is.

change management in pharmaceutical industry

It's not unusual for change-based initiatives, even in large organizations, to start with this desire to be more 'entrepreneurial', to be more 'responsive' and 'nimble', and to tap into 'big thinking'.

That's great, as far as it goes - but when it comes to actually implementing business changes, things are a little more complicated.

The pharmaceutical industry isn't Silicon Valley

In the last 20 years, I've led a lot of change, transformation and training initiatives, both client-side and as a consultant.  During that time I've learned that it doesn't matter what the spreadsheet says will happen if you make some changes, your success ultimately depends on one factor:  People.

Different industries attract - and flourish with - different types of people.  While tech startups and ad agencies do best with people who like to think of themselves as highly dynamic, creative 'change agent' types, the pharmaceutical industry does better with structured thinkers who are comfortable with process and rules.

This isn't a bad thing:  The pharma industry is highly regulated, legislated and controlled, and it's important that serious rigor is brought to everything they do.  It's not unusual for a new product to spend 10-20 years in research and development before it launches, and I for one am happy about this - I'm much more comfortable knowing that the medicine I'm taking in the morning has had years of careful testing and scrutiny before it's hit the shelves.

However, this does have significant implications for change management within the pharma and healthcare environments, and it's important to address these.

Successful change within pharma

Ultimately, leading and managing change within pharma companies - especially large, global ones - comes down to addressing 3 key factors:

1.  People

Recognize that the majority of your employees are more comfortable with structure and an established set of parameters than they are with adapting to rapidly changing environments.

This doesn't mean they will be resistant to change efforts - they're more than intelligent enough to recognize the need for change - but it does mean that they may require more communication, more encouragement to become fully engaged, and more reassurance throughout the process.

2.  Pace

When you're working within a highly structured environment, it's important to understand that the pace of change may not be quite as fast as senior leadership would like.

Most pharma companies are, of necessity, large organizations that simply can't turn on a dime.  Trying to implement change too quickly can set the stage for failure; starting and stopping will cost you momentum and make it more difficult to engage employees.  Setting a realistic, steady pace for change from the beginning will go a long way to ensuring success.

3.  Planning

Half the battle in any successful change initiative is successful planning.  In the pharma industry, it's even more important to ensure that scope, requirements and expectations are established at the outset - and that there aren't dramatic changes of direction mid-stream.

You'll find your employees will be much more engaged and enthusiastic - and productive! - throughout the process when they feel that the change is unfolding as planned and that they can see a clear outcome.  After all, that's how they approach their own work.

PART 1 of 2:  It's all about balance

A few weeks ago, FastCompany blogger Shawn Parr wrote a post entitled 'Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch'.  It was a great headline which got a lot of attention, and it seemed to imply that culture alone, if done well, can almost obviate the need for strategy.  The theory is that when the organization - and the employees - are actively living the company's values, vision and goals on a daily basis, strategy will somehow take care of itself.

In fact, it's a combination of culture + strategy that wins the day.  However, while studies show there is a direct correlation between a healthy, productive culture and a company's bottom line, the majority of companies spend little time thinking, let alone doing anything about, this topic - even when they're spending lots of time thinking about their business strategy.

Example: Company A

Company A is making money in spite of itself.  They have wonderful products but just can't seem to find a way to manufacture and ship them consistently. Sales keeps on selling and then demanding that Operations deliver; Operations feels like the neglected stepchild but can't seem to find a way to manage and meet the demand.  There's so much internal infighting and drama that sometimes it's hard to remember exactly what the goals really are.

What's wrong with this organization?  Is it strategy, culture, or both?

Organizational analysts could go crazy trying to figure out what the problem could be because there isn't a clear answer - at first.  The complexity is mind-boggling, and undermines any solutions put forward.  Is there an easier way?


Looking at the symptoms from a higher level, a possible picture begins to emerge.  It's all about balancing culture and strategy.

Company A is making money and their sales force is clearly connected to the customer.  But a strategic emphasis on sales, to the detriment of operations, is undermining their progress.  At the same time, a 'blame culture' has emerged which is making the infighting acceptable.

The corporate culture and strategy are out of balance.  It's not uncommon for companies with the best of intentions to focus on one area or another, but balance is what delivers business results.

Balance can be looked at simply, as in the balance between an External Focus and an Internal Focus.  It can also be looked at as a balance between Adaptability, Mission, Consistency and Involvement.

The Denison Culture Model, below, shows the different elements of culture.  To be considered a high-performing culture, and as a result a high-performing organization, a company needs to consider all four quadrants in order to succeed.



A balance between Adaptability and Mission (which supports the External Focus) and Involvement and Consistency (which supports the Internal Focus) is crucial.  Growth requires high levels of Adaptability and Mission but operating, performance and quality require high levels of Involvement and Consistency.  Innovation and customer satisfaction is about marrying Involvement with Adaptability.  Stable performance over time shows the joining of Mission and Consistency.

PART 2:  Rational vs Emotional

Listen to your employees. Give them a nonthreatening forum in which to express their misgivings, fears, and struggles with the change you are proposing. Make sure you understand the nature of their negative reaction and what might be driving it. For example, they don't understand their new role, don't agree with the timing, or perhaps are just reacting to the "surprise" factor. Engaging in this discovery process with employees helps you and your team develop targeted implementation strategies. Equally important, it lets the resistors know that you're listening.

Page 10 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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