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If you're like me, you probably have a stack of business books somewhere in the corner of your office, just waiting for the mythical day (or month) when you have nothing else to do but read.  Except that when you finally make some time, you discover that most of those books have one or two good points, buried in a whole lot of stuff you already knew or which isn't all that relevant to your day-to-day working life.

That's why, when Bruno Gebarski asked me the other day for my recommendations on great change management books, I didn't have to think too hard about my choices.  There are lots of business change management books out there, but only a handful that I read cover to cover, and refer to and reference often in my work. If you don't have time to read any other change management books this year, these will give you lots to work with.

Aftershock: Helping People Through Corporate Change
by Harry Woodward & Steve Buchholz

change management books beth banks cohn

This is my all-time favorite book about change, and in many ways it's the first book which really addressed the issues around what happens to the people in an organization when they're faced with huge changes.  Even though it was written in 1987, the points the authors make about how to manage people through change are still relevant today, and I find myself referring to Woodward & Buchholz's principles time and again.  If you want to understand - and I mean really understand - the people side of change, this is the book for you.

Leading Change
by John P. Kotter

leading change john kotter beth banks cohn

Of course, you can't talk about change management writers without talking about John Kotter.  He's been one of the leading voices in the field for years now.  I have to admit that I'm not the most passionate devotee of Kotter, but I really like this book because it speaks the language of business.  I can reference it with my clients - some of whom are familiar with Kotter already, from conferences or workshops - and they understand immediately.  I also use his concept of a 'guiding coalition' (making sure you have a team comprised of people with the right amount of power, expertise, credibility and leadership) on all my projects - it's one of those practical tips that make a huge difference no matter what kind of change initiative you're undertaking.

Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change
by William Bridges

managing transitions william bridges beth banks cohn change management

First published in 1995, this book is now in its 3rd edition, which gives you some idea of just how useful it must be.  It's designed for employees and managers, to help them get through change by understanding, accepting and even embracing the new status quo.  Not every change fits into the 'transition' category, but I find the model particularly useful in cases where the change initiative has potentially negative implications for individuals.  I also use it when I work with my executive coaching clients - we don't go step-by-step through Bridges' model, but I use the principles to help clients who are in that space between 'endings' and 'beginnings'.

ChangeSmart: Implementing Change Without Lowering Your Bottom Line
by Beth Banks Cohn

changesmart by beth banks cohn adra change architects

What would this list be without a shameless plug for one of my own books?  Written for middle- and higher-level managers, this book is all about leveraging the power of your employees to help a change go more smoothly and productively, and with the best possible effect on the bottom line of the organization.  It's got a field-tested framework that can be applied to almost any business project plan, has real-life examples, and, best of all, it can be read in under 2 hours!

What about you?  Which change-related books have been most influential in your day-to-day work?  (Share your recommendations on Twitter @BethBanksCohn.)

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Sometimes it takes a physical change to spark a behavioral one

The countries of the former USSR are in a difficult period:  They know they need to hange, but are caught in the grip of hundreds of years of often-difficult history.  History is frequently a barrier to change, but a country isn't like an office:  You can't just buy some new office furniture, paint the walls and invite everyone in for a lunch'n'learn when you want to signal - and foster - a major change of direction.

But maybe you can do other things.

better change management through architecture

Recently, Georgia - the one in Asia, not the one in the US - unveiled its brand new parliament building in Kutaisi.  The new building has been described as a "sci-fi bubble" and represents a deliberate departure from Soviet-era architecture (a Soviet war memorial was, in fact, demolished to make way for the new building).

The whole point of the $83 million structure, uniquely modern in its landscape, is to be a tangible expression of Georgia's commitment to moving past its Soviet history and towards a more global, independent future.  Ramaz Nikolaishvilli, Georgia's Regional Development and Infrastructure Minister, said:  "We don't want our children's taste to be ruined by communist architecture.  We want beautiful buildings and we want the next generation to grow up with good taste.  This will help them live in a better and more dignified way."

Of course, the project hasn't been without its difficulties:  Demolishing the war memorial caused injuries; there have been cost and deadline overruns; and there are plenty of detractors who think the building is both ugly and a misuse of public funds in what should be a time of austerity.

Is the big risk going to pay off in big results for Georgia?  It's probably too soon to tell, but early signs suggest that bold moves like the new parliament buildings, combined with other efforts to remove Soviet-era reminders are helping Georgians to see themselves as independent, entrepreneurial, and ready to compete in a global economy - all of which will put it ahead of other former USSR countries in the long run.

Lessons for change management practitioners

It's tempting to think of 'change management' as something that happens in big companies, in 6-month cycles with tidy little project plans.  Georgia's new parliament buildings are a good reminder that sometimes 'change' is much, much bigger than implementing a new enterprise-wide CRM system.

At the same time, however, all business-related change management really involves many of the same things:

  1. Driving better business results - whether within an organization, an industry, or even a continent
  2. Knowing that sometimes you have to take big risks in order ot have a chance to achieve big rewards
  3. Having a clear vision of what you're striving towards will help you weather the criticism
  4. Remembing that visionary change involves more than just this year's fiscal reports - it's about making investments that will set you up for success in the long term
  5. Sometimes changing one thing changes everything else.  You may not be able to change everything (or at least not as quickly as you'd like to), but taking the first big steps at least gets you moving.

 

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Sure, it's a little late - well, later than everyone else's - but maybe now you'll have time to read this wrap-up of my top 10 most popular blog posts of 2013.

top 10 change management blog posts

Before we get started, just a quick word of thanks:  The past year has brought a whole lot of new visitors to the ADRA blog, and I wanted to thank both my new readers and my 'old faithfuls' for making 2013 such a great one. I have always loved thinking - and writing - about change management, but it's particularly gratifying (not to mention flattering) to know that thousands of people are interested in what you have to say about change every month.  Thank you - and I hope you enjoy my 2014 posts even more.

And now for the top 10 of 2013.

1.  Changeruption: When 'disruption' meets 'what the hell just happened?', it's time for change management

Like so many buzzwords, disruption started out with good intentions.  But when the skinny-jeans consultants forget to tell Marge's team in shipping/receiving about the 'disruption' they're about to orchestrate in the organization, the resulting changeruption starts looking more like Mount Pinatubo than the TED talk you were hoping for.

2.  Top 10 Myths of Change Leadership

We all have some preconceived ideas about what leading change will, or should, look like.  But many preconceived ideas aren't, in fact, correct.

3.  Adapting to your new iPhone is not the same as change management

These days, technology has made us all more adaptable - at least we think it does.  But learning how to use your fancy new gadget isn't the same as adapting to organizational change.  Here's why.

4.  Think the workplace isn't about making friends?  Think again.

Sure, you probably shouldn't be best friends with the employees you manage in the workplace.  On the other hand, you'll find that the most successful businesspeople are the ones who know how to build and maintain long-term relationships with the people they work with.  

5.  The Changing Role of Pharma Reps

New regulations mean that pharmaceutical reps are going to have to do less 'selling' and more 'relationship-building' with healthcare providers.  What does this mean for healthcare?

6.  Change Challenge:  Sales Force Reorganization

Changing the process, tools or structure of  sales teams can be particularly challenging, especially when some members are more successful than others.  Here's how we managed a change initiative in a real-world organization.

7.  Positive Psychology, Change and the Bottom Line III:  Motivation to Change

Part of our 5-part series on how theories from positive psychology can be applied to change management with dramatic bottom-line results, this piece discusses neural pathways and how they affect the motivation to change.

8.  If culture eats strategy for lunch, change is part of a healthy breakfast, Part II

The right change management strategy balances the rational (typically the business goals) with the emotional (typically the organizational culture).  If you can get them both working together, the organization will do a better job of changing.

9.  10 tips for choosing the right change management consultant

I first wrote a version of this back in 2011.  It was one of my most popular blog posts back then, and I've updated it every year since.  Remember, the right change management consultant can make or break your change initiative.

10.  Positive Psychology, Change and the Bottom Line V:  The ABCs of Positive Psychology - Affect

Another in this year's Positive Psychology series, this piece examines 'affect', the first in the ABCs of positive psychology which also includes 'behavior' and 'cognition'.  

 

I hope you have a chance to visit - or revisit - these posts.  In the meantime, thanks again for visiting the ADRA blog, and as always I look forward to hearing from you (and you can always find me on Twitter).

 

Published in News
Saturday, 18 January 2014 00:00

Resiliency: Crucial to Successful Change

'Resiliency' is one of those words, when used in the context of people and workforces, which tend to sound a little touchy-feely/HR department-ish and the kind of thing you can safely ignore.  The truth, however, is that resilient employees, and a resilient workforce, are crucial to a successfully innovative organization.  The more resilient your employees, the more likely you'll be able to implement new strategies effectively and efficiently.

resilient employees

Resiliency in the workplace doesn't just happen.  It's built over time, and while individuals can help themselves become more resilient, it's more effective if they're supported by their managers and by the organization as a whole.

Assessing resiliency is an important part of the change management process - but it needs to happen well before any change is implemented.  Ideally, before you undertake any change initiatives, you'll ensure you've built some resiliency within the organization.

Characteristics of resiliency

How can you determine whether your organization is resilient enough to embrace change?

Research shows that resilient individuals display specific characteristics.  Though not all experts agree on every characteristic, the four most commonly cited are the following:

Sense of purpose:  Studies show that people with a sense of purpose in their life can use that as a stabilizer in times of change.  Having a sense of purpose helps people manage through disruptions more effectively because it provides a context or perspective for change.  It's not uncommon for people to get so caught up in the day-to-day activities of their job that they forget why they chose or loved it in the first place.

As a company, your employees' sense of purpose can be found in the company's vision and mission statements.  Vision and mission statements are designed to give context and meaning to the work every employee dodes.  Although having meaningful vision and mission statements can't guarantee resiliency at the individual level, it can help to provide the context and perspective that can contribute to employees' sense of purpose.

Ask yourself:  Are the organization's vision and mission statements known throughout the organization?  Do people understand them?  More importantly, do your employees believe in the vision and mission of the company?

Feeling in control:  People who feel in control of themselves and their world are more confident as they move through change.  A change may make them feel temporarily out of control, but they're able to return to a positive state.  However, when we're not in control, we feel unsettled, which may lead to lower productivity and effectiveness.  In that state, any disruption will heighten the feeling of being out of control.

At an organizational level, maintaining an environment in which people feel in control of their work lives is key.  An organization that encourages people to control their success, and gives them the tools and support they need, is a resilient organization.  

As you assess Control in your organization, ask yourself:  As a company, do we encourage people to take responsibility for their own success - and then allow them to do it?  Many companies tell employees they are accountable and responsible, but then don't give them the tools or support they need to be successful.  A mixed message will undermine the organization's resiliency.

Teaching employees to be their own guides during change is one way of building feelings of control.  When employees have the tools to create their own map of a change, they can build on their own feelings of control - and, as a result, resiliency.  A 'map' is basically a way for them to answer some very simple questions:  What is the change, how does it relate to our current business, how does it affect me, what will I do differently, what will my team do differently as a result, what other parts of the company will be affected, what opportunities do I see?

Once they know the answers to these questions, most people can begin to manage through the change successfully.  More questions will come up and people's need for control won't go away, but at least they'll understand how the change will affect them.

Positive outlook:  Optimism is very helpful when managing through change successfully and efficiently.  An important component of having a positive outlook is not to dwell on the potential downsides of a situation - but not to ignore them, either.  Some people are naturally optimistic; others are naturally pessimistic but can learn how to have a positive outlook.  Resilient people not only focus on opportunities that can emerge from change, but can see themselves taking advantage of those opportunities - and succeeding.

As a company, negativity plays a big role in the level of resiliency.  At the individual level, it's 'negative self-talk'.  At the organizational level, it's the 'never good enough talk'.  An organization that always pushes for high achievement may fall into the trap of never being satisfied with the current level of performance.  While it's good to strive for high achievement, many organizations forget the importance of rewarding and celebrating the current high performance before moving on to the next set of goals.  Employees who work extremely hard and exceed their goals, only to be told that their performance is 'adequate', start to believe that they'll never be good enough - and that can undermine even the most positive employee's optimism, which in turn undermines the organization's resiliency.

Physical and spiritual well-being:  It's a well-known fact that stress takes a terrible toll on humans both physically and emotionally.  It's very hard to be resilient if you're physically and emotionally exhausted.  Resilient individuals recognize the importance of this and make a concerted effort to balance their lives with enough rest, time away from work, exercise and healthy foods.  Organizations can build the well-being of their workforce by encouraging and allowing for work/life balance.

Now, it isn't the role of the company to play 'mother' and get everyone to eat right and exercise.  However, providing healthy food in the cafeteria, encouraging exercise via gym facilities or memberships - these things can play a role in the way the organization affects its employees.

A company president who is known to check and send email until 1am, 7 days a week, and praises people who consistently work 12 hours a day is sending a clear message:  Work/life balance is neither important nor possible for employees.  But work/life balance is a business issue:  Overworked, burned-out employees aren't resilient (and often aren't productive, either).  A company which needs to change and grow can't accomplish much if they don't have resilient employees - and that affects the bottom line.

Resilient individuals can take care of themselves, which helps them move through each change or disruption with ease - and organizations can benefit greatly from that.  It's important for a company to pay attention to the resiliency of their workforce as part of the strategic planning process.  After all, you make all the plans you want, but if your employees aren't sufficiently resilient to carry out those plans, you won't succeed.

 

Published in News

A few years ago I was working with a large professional services firm which was implementing a new ATS (Applicant Tracking System) in their recruiting department.  the system was designed to take in and applications from the corporate website and various job boards, automatically respond to applicants, and then help the recruiting team keep track of candidates throughout the screening, interviewing and hiring process.  The idea was that the recruiting team would eventually have a deep database of candidates to call on, while applicants would be processed more efficiently and everyone would have a terrific experience.

change management beth banks cohn

Well, of course the system as delivered wasn't quite as perfect as it had seemed in the initial presentations by the company which built it.  It didn't perfectly match the current processes, it had some very complicated features, and it wasn't quite as easy to use as it had seemed in the original boardroom presentation.

The staff began to grumble, and adoption of the new system got a bit wobbly.  It was time for leadership.

The VP Recruiting, a well-respected and popular leader, undertood a successful 3-pronged approach:

1.  Insight and input:  He asked senior team members to provide, factual, non-emotional, functional-based feedback about the system.  He ignored vague critiques like "It sucks!" but carefully compiled specific items like "It's difficult to set up new job boards within the system".  Then he took this list to the developers and told them to fix them.

2.  Training:  In the original plan, the system had been positioned as so easy to use, it wouldn't require training.  When it was clear this had been wildly optimistic, he quickly identified a couple of team members who seemed most technically adept, sent them to the developers for some in-depth training, and made them subject-matter experts with a certain amount of authority.

3.  Brooking no dissent:  While working on productive solutions to the problems via #1 and #2, the VP Recruiting meanwhile put a stop to any negative conversations about the new system.  He didn't issue an edict or bark orders; he simply curtailed any complaints that walked into his office with a, "Yes, we're working on it - but in the meantime, just keep plugging, please," and when he encountered gripe sessions within the office, he subtly but firmly put an end to them by changing the subject or referring to the ongoing revisions and training.

Why did this 3-pronged approach work?

As a respected and popular leader, the VP Recruiting had the ability to influence his staff.  By demonstrating that he knew there were challenges (by asking for input about improvements) and was willing to spend resources to get the required training for staff, he maintained his credibility.  (When leaders pretend there isn't a problem when everyone knows there is, they risk look oblivious or clueless - both of which undermine their authority.)

Most importantly, however, he made it clear that regardless of the limitations of the system, the expected behavior for employees was to do the best they could and not waste time complaining.  He was changing the behavior even if attitudes weren't quite there yet.

The result?  The behavior change led to an attitude change.  With the negative grumbling curtailed and the knowledge that there were some solutions in the pipeline, employees settled down to the new system and got on with their work.

Published in News

 

You might have more control over the situation than you think.

The most difficult - and yet crucial - part of any change management initiative is making effective changes in the attitudes and behaviors of the people involved.  After all, they've been working away at their jobs, sometimes for years, and it can intimidating - and a little scary - to learn that they may have to change everything they know in order to thrive in the 'new world'.

conflict at work beth banks cohn

If that wasn't hard enough, what can make change even more difficult is existing conflict between individuals.  I'm talking about the often long-standing conflict that tends to be based in fundamental personality clashes, working styles and work history, typically between heads of competing departments or teams.  In a normal working environment, this kind of conflict can be contained, but in a changing environment, which can involve new teams, new responsibilities, and different reporting structures, it can be a real roadblock to moving forward efficiently and effectively.

So what can you do, as a change management professional?

My approach, as soon as I identify one of these conflicts (and if you've done your information-gathering correctly, they become evident pretty early on in the process), is to encourage the two parties to resolve their conflict, for the sake of themselves and their teams.  I work with both parties and start by asking them to ask themselves the following questions:

1.  Why is this conflict happening?  90% of the time, these kinds of conflicts are based in perceived insecurity or anxiety based on their work history together.  One or both parties feels they have to protect themselves from a percevied threat, and that if they abandon the conflict or make an effort to drop their guard, 'bad things' will happen.  If you can get to the bottom of the perceived threat, the involved parties can begin to addres and resolve it.

2.  What is my [the participant's] role in the conflict?  It's easy to blame the other person for a conflict, but most people, when asked to think about it, will eventually admit that they haven't been entirely blameless.  Encouraging each individual to take responsibility for how they've contributed to the conflict is the first step to changing their behavior.

3.  What outcome am I (the participant) looking for?  Ask each participant, separately, what 'the best outcome' of the situation would look like. Their knee-jerk, emotional reaction may be "For so-and-so to get fired!" but when asked to think about it, most people will eventually admit that they want something fairly simple, like "I'd like not to feel undermined with my boss", or "Our public and private opinions remain aligned".

4.  What does the other person want?  Ask each participant to put themselves in the other person's shoes.  This serves to remind each participant that there are two sides to every conflict.  It helps lay the groundwork for empathy which will be critical for the next stage - a face-to-face conversation.

5.  Is there any reason a frank, private discussion won't help?  Sometimes, the two parties have never had a friendly conversation about anything.  Putting the two together in a room, alone - and without everyone else in the office knowing that they're having a conversation - and encouraging them to discuss why they're having trouble working together and what things they may have in common can be a surprisingly effective first step to achieving at least a tacit working truce.  

You might also consider having a third party there to facilitate the conversation.  That might be you or a trusted HR partner.  An important part of the conversation will be for both individuals to imagine what working well together without conflict might look like.  One way to encourage this is to have each person complete the sentence:  "When X and I are working well together..." in a brainstorming fashion, then share their answers with one another.  The last part will be a commitment to change one behavior:  "I commit to checking with X before speaking on his behalf or committing him to work" or "I commit to keeping the agreements we've made during a team meeting".  Both parties also need to decide how they will continue their communication - regular one-on-ones can provide a good forum for that.

Now, I'm no Pollyanna, and I know that not every workplace conflict is solvable - sometimes one or both people are simply unhappy or a poor fit and the change process is a good time for them to move on.  However, if you're working with good individual contributors or top performers, making an effort to resolve the conflict first can save a good deal of time and money later.

 

Published in News

 

What is motivation, and what happens to it during a business transformation?

MOTIVE noun \ˈmō-tiv : something (as a need or desire) that causes a person to act

 

Motivation is simply the drive that moves us to take an action.  These drives might be physical (to have a drink of water when we're thirsty); intellectual (to read a book when we're bored); or emotional (to call a friend when we're feeling sad).  As humans, we're motivated to do what we believe is in our best interests.  Sometimes that results in positive achievements; sometimes in (retrospectively) stupid mistakes.

alt

Our beliefs about what our beset interests really are can make motivation in times of change particularly challenging for an organization.  When a new direction is announced, and involves potentially painful changes like reorganizations, staffing changes or business process restructurings, a quite complex web of motivations can arise:

Employees may feel their 'best interest' is simply to survive the change
Department managers may feel their 'best interest' is to keep delivering results at any cost - and to survive the change
Senior leadership may feel that their 'best interest' is to avoid being blamed if the promised results don't happen - and to survive the change

But how do you keep an organization moving forward when motivations are evolving, and so many people are going into 'survival' mode?

Establishing new direction

As a leader during a business transformation effort, establishing a new direction doesn't mean simply announcing a new strategy and then walking away as if the business will just continue as usual and the changes will magically appear.  It means putting a process in place which encourages and supports each individual as they define wha the new business direction means to them.

This isn't 'touchy-feely, sing kumbaya' stuff.  It's about helping employees understand their role in the transformation, how it will affect them, and what they can do to move forward - because it's only by helping them understand these things that the business change will achieve the ROI that it should.  After all, it's the people in the equation who make or break a transformation.

Removing barriers

The number of barriers the organization faces depends on the nature of the business change.  Barriers to change can be as simple as ensuring everyone in a specific department has adequate education in a new technology, or as complex as inspiring an entire organization to buy into a whole new strategic vision and approach to the marketplace.  Either way, they need to be taken seriously.

Engaging the individuals who are involved in or creating the barriers is the first step to easing them.  You can motivate a department to become engaged in a new technology by helping them understand how it will make their work lives easier; you can motivate an organization to become engaged in a new strategic vision by helping them understand how it will drive their long-term career goals and security.

Providing support

A key role for leaders is to provide support to the team as they change the way they operate on a day-to-day basis.  Supporting individuals means listening, empathizing, and concentrating on their progress through a change.  By providing assistance, feedback and counsel, you're helping them to see that their 'best interests' really do involve moving forward with the changes - and that helps keep them motivated to continue.

Remember:  Support may also involve reiterating why a change is being implemented, what the goals of the change are, and why the timing of the change is important.  This will help drive motivation.

Good leadership = Good motivation

People need leaders to lead, especially during a time of change.  Sounds simple, right?

Except that 'announcing' a change isn't the same as 'leading' one.  Leadership during a change requires a leader who is actively and visibly engaged during the entire process; someone who is seen to be removing barriers, providing support, and communicating the process in a credible way.  When leaders do this, individuals become more and more motivated to work towards a goal which doesn't just benefit 'management' or 'the company', but their own best interests as well.

 

Published in News
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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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