Category Archives: Change

Leading People Through Organizational Change

Change Prezi

A Prezi on Leading Organizational Change

When it comes to installing a “new” practice, system, or process and making it “the way” of producing specified results, anyone who has lead such a change initiative knows that success or failure often comes down to the conduct of leadership and the extent to which people adapt.

Click this link to learn what effective change leaders know about helping people transition from the way things are to the way they need to be.

When you’re done, come back and let us know what you think of the message and the medium!

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Filed under Business, Change, How To, Leadership

Behavior Change: A Talent Development Challenge

hMany organizations today have Talent Management functions staffed with human resource professionals diligently trying
to attract, train, and retain “talent” (the newish word for those paid to do a job. You know, employees.) An important mandate for these Talent Management groups is “talent development”; growing the skills, knowledge, and capabilities of the talent. Implicit in the term “talent development” is the notion that the “talent” will change their behavior in order to improve their performance levels ideally toward the achievement of organizational objectives. Netting it out, this means inside of organizations there’s a department of employees expected to convince other employees to make serious changes in their lives.

Have you ever tried to break an old habit or start a new one? It’s not an easy thing to do. Now, imagine trying to get someone else to break a habit, adopt a new habit, learn a new skill, use a new software program, or do a task differently than they have for the last umpteen years. That’s the challenge faced by talent developers (otherwise known as corporate learning teams, capability developers, trainers, facilitators, instructional designers, etc.).

 This brings us to two essential questions: 

1. Why is change so difficult?
2. How can we influence others to change their behavior?

The Trouble with Change
According to David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz, breakthroughs in neuroscience prove out what most of us who have tried to change our behaviors already know. Change is painful. It is actually physiologically painful. In their Strategy + Business article titled “The Neuroscience of Leadership,” Rock and Schwartz explain, “Trying to change any hardwired habit requires a lot of effort, in the form of attention. This often leads to a feeling that many people find uncomfortable. So they do what they can to avoid change.”

Another reason change is difficult is a perceived difference between expectation and actuality triggers activity in the parts of the brain that cause people to react more emotionally and impulsively.

“Try to change another person’s behavior, even with the best possible justification, and he or she will experience discomfort. The brain sends out powerful messages that something is wrong, and the capacity for higher thought is decreased. Change itself thus amplifies stress and discomfort…” –Rock & Schwartz

Have you ever tried to drive on a heavily rutted dirt road? You know the kind where deep tire tracks forged in mud are solidified hard as concrete when the ground dries? Once your tires drop into the ruts; it’s almost impossible to pull them out to drive on smoother parts of the road. Our minds work the same way.

We develop schemata or patterns of thoughts and behaviors for our activities. These patterns make us efficient. When was the last time you had to think about brushing your teeth? You were taught step by step; but as time went on, you grouped those steps into a schema or routine. Now, it’s not something you think about step by step but rather as a single task accomplished almost exactly the same way each time.

Schemata are the ruts in the roads of our minds. Changing our behaviors means fighting to pull our mental wheels out of the deep grooves to which we’ve grown accustom. Even when we get the tires onto flat ground, we still feel uncomfortable and anxious. The discomfort does not abate until we’ve worn in a new set of ruts; built a new schema.

Talent Managers and other organizational leaders should recognize and never underestimate the power of the pain of change.  Employees’ perception of the required change and the physiological reactions they experience will greatly impact the outcome.


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Filed under Business, Change, Human Resources, Influence, Leadership, Talent Development, Talent Management, Uncategorized

How to Handle Frienemies

Sun Tzu wisely advises army generals, project managers, and leaders of any ilk to “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” But what about our “Frienemies?” Where should we keep them? I’m guessing anyone who has had an initiative derailed by a frienemy would recommend a location where the sun does not shine.

A frienemy is that confounding blend of a friend and an enemy. In business, the frienemy is best known for saying all the right things and doing all the wrong ones. Spinning meetings out of control with irrelevant questions or tangential diatribes, splintering teams and causing discord by ferrying ill will back and forth between disparate groups, smiling at you and nodding in feigned acquiescence all the while, frienemies are the hobgoblins of productivity. Sharp leaders intent on moving their organization toward a brighter future quickly recognize these black clouds looming over the path to success, patiently waiting to rain on their parade.

It is not enough to simplycategorize those surrounding and involved in an initiative as friends, enemies, or frienemies. Leaders must determine an appropriate strategy for each group. For  frienemies, step one is to objectively assess the downside risk to ignoring them in hopes that they either go away or cave in to the positive influence of the “friends.” This is not a time to get caught up in ego and insecurity. A leader does not have to be liked or supported by everyone all the time in order to be effective. Driven by a need for approval, pursuing a turn-around campaign to win the heart and mind of a frienemy could be a fruitless waste of energy.

However, given the objectives you are trying to achieve, if an honest assessment of the situation leads to the conclusion that the frienemy is a big enough risk to warrant an investment of time and attention, there are ways to press a fine wine out of sour grapes.

The frienemy to friend undertaking begins with a mile long walk in the other person’s shoes. Think about what keeps this person up at night; this gives you a better understanding of their motivation. Then, consider how they benefit from their agenda. Why are they not bought-in to the initiative? What do they stand to gain if your objectives are not met?

Now, comes the hard part. Armed with new-found insight into the mind of the frienemy, you have to find an area around which to grant this person your trust. Influential leaders know that they must trust in order to be trusted. Ralph Waldo Emerson eloquently stated, “Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.” Easy enough to accomplish with friends. Painful at best with frienemies; but necessary nonetheless. Ralph and I are not suggesting that you share your garage door code with this person. Start with small steps that move you closer to common ground and mutual respect.

Consider ways you can leverage this person’s strengths while also assuaging their concerns. As Booker T. Washington said, “Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him.”

If you have other strategies for handling frienemies or a frienemy to friend success story, please share in the comments section!


Filed under Change, Frienemy, How To, Influence, Leadership

Know Your Big O from Your Little O

Take a look at the pictures in the gallery above. They are the many faces of influence. Though they come from a variety of backgrounds and manifested their leadership in different ways, each one of them made a choice to be a positive force for change and to use their influence not for self-serving reasons but rather to serve others. Being influential is a way of life. It’s about stepping outside of your comfort zone and investing time in activities and relationships that ultimately contribute to a better world. In addition to a high degree of selflessness, a dedication to building trust, and a willingness to get their hands dirty, influential people take a systematic careful approach to inspiring cooperation from others. Whether an unconscious competence or a learned behavior, effective influencers follow certain steps to motivate individuals and groups. They operate in a way that earns buy-in, establishes trust, and demonstrates respect. In Saying What You Mean’s August post, readers were introduced to this process. It’s called the Positive Influence Method.


The Positive Influence Method is a step by step approach to getting results in a constructive timely manner. The first step in the process is to develop a set of clearly defined, logically prioritized objectives.

Start in the Winner’s Circle

The second of Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” teaches us to begin with the end in mind. Construct a clear image in your mind of what it is you are trying to accomplish. If you’re leading a project or initiative, envision the outcome. In what ways will things be better once your vision becomes a reality? What has changed in the organization? How are people’s lives impacted? How will the environment or work atmosphere be different? What issues, obstacles, or challenges will be removed? What will people be celebrating? Now, capture the vision in clear succinct language. You should be able to communicate this idea in less than five minutes. If it takes you longer than that to get your point across, go back to the drawing board and further refine the message.

Vision DNA

A vision is an edifice constructed out of a set of objectives. Write down the building blocks from which your vision will be assembled. Detail what needs to be accomplished and by whom. This is a valuable list. It gives you measurable milestones to track the progress of your initiative and lets you know who the key players are that you must engage to be successful.

Sort the Big O’s from the Little o’s

In most cases, when we plan for projects or initiatives we organize the objectives or milestones according to dependencies and chronology. “A” can’t happen until “B” is done and it makes the most sense to focus on “C” once “B” is complete. Although an important exercise for planning, this does not necessarily help you when it comes to influencing others to contribute their time and assets to your cause.

For the moment, abandon chronology and dependencies in favor of degree of importance to the overall vision. Sort the list of objectives according to the “must haves” and the “nice to haves.” For example, entertainment at the charity fundraiser is a “must have.” Securing The Dave Matthews Band is a “nice to have.” Begin to work on a compelling case for your “must have” objectives. In future posts, we’ll talk about how these compelling cases can be tailored for the greatest impact. For each group or person with whom you must engage in order to fulfill your vision, determine what you are willing to invest or sacrifice to obtain your “must have” objectives.

Stay Tuned. Next up: Power Inventory

Can’t wait for the next post to find out what to do next? Want to know more sooner than later? Click here to learn more about Positive Influence for Premium Results

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Filed under Business, Change, How To, Influence, Leadership, Trust, Uncategorized

Meetings, Influence, and the Bonsai Tree

An search for books on “meetings” returns 59,664 results. This is a pretty good indication of how we’re trying to get work done in organizations today. Some of the more colorful titles include Patrick Lencioni’s Death by Meeting, Boring Meetings Suck by Jon Petz and Don Snyder, and Stop the Meeting I Want to Get Off! by Scott Snair. Although meetings can serve many valuable purposes in business, to borrow a phrase from Mr. Petz, they suck as a forum for influencing groups.

The inherent flaw in trying to use meetings as an arena for influencing groups is the notion that a group can be influenced. A group is made up of individuals. Though they may operate under a common moniker, these individuals do not share a singular consciousness. Each person comes to the group with his/her own agenda. Sometimes the agendas of meeting participants clash and at other times they will overlap ven diagram style. It is highly unlikely that a group of individuals will come to the table with a single perfectly synchronized objective.

No matter how efficient, engaging, or energetic, a meeting is one of the least effective ways to influence people. Motivating a group to cooperate toward the achievement of a particular objective can only be accomplished by earning trust, demonstrating what’s in it for him/her and inspiring each person within the group to commit to the cause.

It seems obvious that categorizing people under a particular label, such as “staff” or “marketing department” won’t turn them into a single-minded Borg. Yet, time and again leaders make the mistake of treating groups as if they are an independent entity not a collection of separate personalities.

For example:

Attendees are rarely given the time and opportunity to review and contribute to a meeting agenda. Without regard for variances in learning and information processing styles, important issues are often initially raised during the very same meeting in which they are to be resolved. This is just right for the “driver” running the meeting at the same time that it is highly frustrating for the more analytical methodical participants in the room.

Sound Familiar?

During our Influence without Authority program, my business partner and I describe a typical meeting situation and ask people if the story sounds familiar. Inevitably, our participants smile and nod. We get comments such as, “Were you a fly on the wall last week or something?”

What do you think, does this story sound familiar to you?

Here you are opening up what you hope will be a productive meeting. Adhering to good meeting etiquette, you review the agenda with the group. As you look up from your notes expecting to see smiling faces and nodding heads, you are confronted instead with blank stares and furrowed brows. Rallying your courage you plow forward confident that by the end of the meeting the group will see that what you are proposing is really the only logical way to address the challenge at hand. As the meeting draws to a close, your participants scuttle out heads bowed over Blackberries trying to avoid your disappointed gaze.

Moments later, the meetings after the meeting begin. Small clusters of meeting attendees congregate throughout the office to debrief your meeting. A palpable nervous tension fills the break-room as you walk-in on one such post mortem pow-wow.

The reality that your message did not come across well and that your objective is no closer to being achieved sinks in. In hindsight, the meeting seems to have been a colossal waste of time. You invest hours speaking privately with each participant in a valiant effort to influence their opinions and earn their buy-in. Thinking all the while, there’s got to be a better way to get results!

Mr. Miyagi Can Help

Despite the reincarnation of the Karate Kid by the adorable progeny of Will and Jada, for Gen X, the Karate Kid is and will always be Ralph Macchio and his infamous crane stance. Though Jackie Chan will inevitably bring humor and pathos to the role of the wise mentor, it will be difficult to unseat Pat Morita’s sage words “wax on, wax off” from their 26 year reign in the echo chambers of our minds. I bring this up not to open an argument over the pros and cons of movie remakes (and don’t even get me started on sequels), but rather to use a scene from the original movie to make a point about influencing groups of people.

In the 1984 version of The Karate Kid, Daniel Russo finds Mr. Miyagi trimming a Bonsai tree. After a philosophical lesson on tree trimming, Miyagi leaves Daniel to sculpt his own Bonsai. If Miyagi caught Daniel trying to move the tree into a new planter by cutting a large swath of dirt around the base, he would scold Daniel. Unlike other trees, a Bonsai cannot be yanked out of one place and plopped into another. When changing the Bonsai’s location the roots are carefully separated from one another and smoothed out one by one. Once each root has been individually cleaned off, the whole tree can then be lifted out and transferred into the new location. This process is called Nemawashi. It is an ancient practice that holds the secret to influencing groups.

Smoothing the Roots

Influencing people is the organizational equivalent of transplanting a Bonsai tree. Like the delicate flora, people don’t adapt well when they are yanked from one belief system and forced to adapt to the unfamiliar ground of new views. Changing minds and winning hearts requires carefully separating deeply rooted beliefs from the comfortable soil in which they are currently embedded.

Let’s return to our meeting story from earlier. This time, begin by smoothing the roots. Imagine that you schedule time to speak with as many of the attendees as possible in advance of the meeting. You focus your efforts on those who have the most to gain or lose relative to the situation at hand or those who have the most influence within the group involved. During your discussions, you present the agenda giving each person time to comment and give you input. Though you use the time to present the meeting’s agenda, you do not spoil it by pushing your personal agenda. You encourage each person to discuss their objectives and where they stand on the issues. Being a good listener helps earn their trust. It’s a collaborative time. At Starbucks, the process is called “Socializing Ideas.”

When meeting time comes, most if not all of the participants have had a hand in shaping the content and context for the session. Everyone has had time to absorb the issues, consider the possibilities, and determine how they can contribute to a successful resolution. As the meeting leader, your role is to shed light on the common themes shared by the majority, introduce novel ideas held by the minority, and facilitate a collaborative atmosphere. The meeting time is spent pulling together the concepts with the most promise; molding them into new ideas that represent the best solutions. Not everyone’s ideas will be used, but everyone can feel good about being heard and treated fairly.

The meeting ends with a summary of key points and review of the action items assigned to various participants. People leave the meeting with a clear mandate for next steps.

Nemawashi requires an upfront investment of effort for the meeting leader but the ROI in terms of time savings and productivity increases is dramatic.

Influence Is a 1 to 1 Proposition

 Influence is about connecting what’s important to the other person with the objective to be achieved. Whether or not that connection exists, and can be made, has to be determined through direct interaction with the individual. Talented motivational speakers, politicians, and charismatic leaders can strike a responsive chord with individuals in a group setting. Their means and message has enough magnetism to attract and inspire many different people. This one-to-many model is far less effective in business settings. Influence among people working within the same organization is best accomplished one-on-one.


Filed under Business, Change, Influence, Leadership, Uncategorized