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When a business needs to change dramatically, in order to stay in business or stay competitive in a changing marketplace, it can wreak havoc on employees.  Even the best top performers can find themselves struggling to keep pace with the change and return to a state of equilibrium.  However, the quicker that employees can return to that equilibrium, the quicker the organization will see the positive results of the change.

Many people think that the best way to encourage employees to return to business as usual is to ignore the 'feelings' around a dramatic change and focus strictly on the tasks at hand.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  Change always raises emotional issues, whether in our professional or personal lives, and companies which acknowledge this will find employees much more receptive to - and better equipped to deal with - even the most dramatic changes.

By injecting change efforts with a little empathy for employees, leaders have an opportunity to positively influence the movement of individuals through the change process.  In their book, Aftershock, Harry Woodward and Steve Buchholz present an effective 3-part model for helping individuals through change:  Clarify; Share; Engage.

Clarify:  The first step toward empthy is to Clarify the issues and concerns an individual may have with the changes taking place.  It starts with listening - both to what's said and what's not said.  At this stage, it's not about refuting concerns, but to clarify that you understand them.  Most people's concerns about change stem from a fear of the unknown, and simply listening and clarifying those concerns by using active listening questions like "What do you fear losing?" and "What would you like to gain?" can help them move past their fears.  This is the beginning of empathy: When you engage in active listening and demonstrate you've heard and understand their concerns, individuals begin to feel they're not alone - which makes it easier for them to move forward into unknown or changing territory.

Share:  In the second stage of this model, you can focus on sharing your understanding of what's happening with the organization.  The key is to relate what you're sharing back to the concerns expressed in the 'Clarify' stage - don't just repeat the company 'party line' about the changes in a generic way, but make it specific and personal.  Even if you can't directly dispel every individual concern (you may not be able to guarantee their job, position or responsibilities), the fact that you're being honest and straightforward will make a big difference.

Engage:  Once you've clarified and shared - and hopefully calmed some of the individual's worst fears by demonstrating empathy for them - you're in a position to gain their commitment to move forward with you (and the organization) through the changes.  Engagement is the root of ownership:  when an individual engages in the process, they can take ownership of their role in the success of the change - and this helps them feel more in control of the process.  Ask them for ideas on how to successfully implement change; create an individual action plan, together; come up with ways to implement their ideas.  The more the individual feels like a valued, crucial part of the change, the more they can focus on what they'll gain rather than what they'll lose.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not suggesting that business change management has to start with weekly therapy sessions for employees in order to be successful.  However, providing a little empathy - especially at the beginning of the change process - can significantly reduce change resistance while encouraging rapid adoption of change.  In fact, in my experience empathy can actually reduce implementation time and cost by as much as 25% over the change cycle.  And that's a 'business result' everyone can appreciate.


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Sometimes we're rushing around so much that I think we should be called 'Human Doings' rather than 'Human Beings'.  We're coming in early to work, rushing from meeting to meeting and checking our smartphones in every spare minute, trying to get stuff done.  It's no wonder we don't always feel particularly creative or innovative.

change requires creativity and innovation

Creativity and innovation don't just happen, though companies often think they should.  Creativity is born out of knowing as much as possible about the subject at hand and then giving your brain time to ruminate or incubate.  Instead, we're sent to off-site 'brainstorming' meeting, where we're pushed from one session to another, talked at, presented with endless PowerPoint decks, talked at some more - and then suddenly we're told:  "Okay, for the next hour we're going to be creative, people!  We're really going to innovate!"

It just doesn't work.

Here are a few ideas to help get your team's creative juices flowing:

1.  Restructure the off-site meeting:  Instead of putting the 'free time' portion of the off-site/retreat at the end of the end, have meetings on the first few days, during which everyone can learn about the topic at hand and facilitate discussion.  Then schedule downtime to allow that information to simmer.  Come back together the next day and you'll find creative ideas have come to the surface.

2.  Schedule recess for adults:  If you've got only limited time, try adding an extended break in the middle of the meeting.  Gather your team together and make sure everyone is well-versed in the problem or challenge you're trying to solve.  Then send everyone off on a walk, by themselves, out of the building if possible, for 20-30 minutes - no emails, no phones, no talking to anyone else during that time.  Then reconvene and ask for ideas - you'll be surprised how productive those 30 minutes will have turned out to be.

3.  The mini-break:  Get up from your desk and walk outside - don't take your phone, don't check your email, don't talk to co-workers and don't surf around the Huffington Post.  Start with 10 minutes and work your way up.  giving yourself permission to just be for a few minutes will, I promise, almost guarantee your ability to think better and do more in the long run.

Remember:  If you've long been frustrated with the lack of creativity and innovation that you and/or your team have been able to generate, it's probably time to try a different approach.  Continuing to do the same old thing won't generate different results - just increased frustration.


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journaling  (jûr-n-l -ng)


1.a. The act of keeping a personal record of occurrences, experiences, and reflections on a regular basis; keeping a diary.

journaling for change management


I recently listened to a talk given by leadership and psychology lecturer and author Tal Ben-Shachar, formerly of Harvard and now with the IDC in Israel.  Dr. Ben-Shachar cited study after study which demonstrated how effective journaling is for our overall well-being.  In fact, scientific evidence suggests that regular journaling can deliver all kinds of benefits, including reducing stress, helping us solve problems more effectively and resolve disagreements with others, not to mention improving our emotional and physical well-being.

So what does this have to do with change?  Quite a bit, as it happens.

At the individual level it's clear.  If you're in the habit of journaling and something drastic happens in the workdplace (the loss of your job, a major reorganization, the sale of the company, etc.), you'll be better equipped to process the events and move through them more productively.

But what about using the concept of journaling organizationally?  How can journaling help an organization?

Well, of course one way to promote organizational journaling is to hand out notebooks as part of the announcement and encourage people to write about how they feel about it as the change progresses.  It's an interesting idea, and if your company was so inclined I'd tell you it probably wouldn't hurt.  However, you'll get mixed results:  Some people will take to journaling and others won't; some will journal in a productive way, while others won't; still others may be concerned that what they write in a 'corporate sponsored' notebook won't stay private, so they'll write only platitudes, not their real feelings.

On the other hand, what if you take the concept of journaling and use it across the company?

According to Dr. Ben-Shachar and others, journaling actually rewires the brain and creates alternative neural pathways which help an individual cope.  It releases tension and adds a sense of coherence, or narrative, helping individuals make sense of their situation.

Organizationally, we can do the same thing.  After a change announcement is made and people being to think about how it will affect them, I suggest bringing people together and using journaling principles to facilitate communication.  First, give them a chance to write their thoughts down on paper.  Use the 15-minute rule (though others studies show that as little as 2 minutes may be effective).  Then encourage discussion where you, as the facilitator, help them make sense of what's happened within the organization.  (An added benefit of gathering similarly-affected people together is that they can then form an informal support group and see they aren't alone in their situation.)

By creating a sort of 'live journaling' opportunity, you've accomplished several things at once:

  1. You've acknowledged that the announced change is going to affect individuals
  2. You've provided the opportunity for individuals to process that change
  3. You've provided a forum to express feelings/reactions/fears
  4. You've created an opportunity for the team to 're-gel' in light of the new changes (because significant changes can cause even a productively-working team to fall apart)
  5. You've created an opportunity to say goodbye and/or establish closure to the 'old way' and progress forward into the 'new way'

Even better, this kind of exercise can be facilitated by a manager or director - you don't have to wait for HR or senior management to approve or schedule an official activity.

As far as I'm concerned, it's simple:  When we know that journaling can have so many pronounced benefits for individuals, there's no reason not to facilitate journaling at the organizational level.



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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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