Category Archives: change

Why You Should Get Emotional During Change

We feel all sorts of emotions every day. In greater or lesser measure we react to the world around us by feeling and not just thinking. A delayed bus can easily irritate us; the offer of a cup of coffee by a colleague can raise our happiness levels; disappointment can make us sad. When things change around us, so do our emotions.

As we adapt to new situations, we are more alert, more receptive, more open. Change does not only affect us in the present, but it can also move us in unexpected ways as we imagine the future. A presentation can go incredibly well, opening the door to new opportunities. However, this can lead to fear creeping in as we imagine how these new opportunities also present new challenges and we begin to doubt whether we will be able to rise to the occasion.

If we are happy at work, if using some of the processes has become second nature, if we are happy to stick to our routine confident that things are under control, the smallest of changes can have an unexpected effect. We might feel anger at the change agent for disrupting our life, we might begin to doubt whether we’ll be able to continue operating at our best or we might feel happy at the thought of things changing for the better.

This sudden burst (or slow release) of emotions will have an effect on the atmosphere at work. For a start, different people will feel different emotions and at different times. You might feel happy when a new change is introduced but a colleague might feel nervous while your manager feels threatened. As time passes, you might feel uncomfortable with the way you are adapting, your colleague might have conquered his nerves and feel energised while your manager has become depressed.

This cocktail of feelings makes adapting to change an emotional process and not just a cognitive one. Our brains have to be ready to learn to adapt to the new systems and sometimes our emotions might just make that learning curve a bit steeper. If you are the change agent, or are responsible for implementing change in your team, you must accept that the road will be a rocky one as the complex beings called humans, try to adapt.

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 30, 2012 in change, leadership


Tags: , , ,

Failure and Change

Whether we welcome change or not, at some point, we will fail during our transition.

It’s inevitable and we should expect it as a sign that we are doing things differently and learning in the process.

As you change your way of working and thinking (for it’s difficult to change our ways without adapting our mindset, however slightly), you will make mistakes. If you are not making them, then you are not adapting but holding on to that which you know will help you coast along, comfortably.

Fearing “getting it wrong” will prevent you from trying out new ways of working. This means that:

You will miss out on opportunities.
If your focus is on repeating your preferred modes of working, you will not be open to new things which come your way: realising that you can learn from what a colleague is doing, finding out about a new source of information or creating a system that will save you time in the future.

You will not take risks.
I’m not saying behave recklessly; I’m not saying you should take a risk for the sake of it. But taking risks allows us to open the door to something better, more exciting, more satisfying, more productive, more profitable.

You will never learn how to get over failure.
It’s impossible not to make mistakes. But if you avoid situations just because you are likely to fail, you will never learn how to cope.

Trying something new can easily make us uncomfortable. If you are lucky, it will make you excited, but even this might make you nervous. So, if you are worried about making a mistake, here are three questions worth answering.

What is the worse that could happen?
Would you be able to cope? Yes? Go for it! No? Then make a decision not to change now, stop thinking about it and revisit in 3 – 6 months.

What will the future look like if you don’t try it out?

What will it look like if you do?

Hopefully answering these three questions will get you a little closer to reducing that fear of failure which often prevents us from trying something new.

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 5, 2012 in change


Charles Handy: Always Advocating for Change

Charles Handy predicted over ten years ago how the nature of work was going to change. For more his views on leadership and wellbeing, have a look at this short interview, via

Lessons in leadership, work and wellbeing.

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 3, 2012 in change



Have You Changed the Way in Which You Spend Your Time?

When we think of ourselves as role-models in an organisation, we think about our behaviour, our ethics, the way we treat others, how we behave in public etc.

But have you considered how you might be role-modelling something as simple as how you spend your time?

How we spend our time can speak volumes about what we consider important. It must be aligned with our aims and with our expectations of others.

If you want your team members to be superb collaborators, you have to lead by example and spend more time with them than at your desk managing by e-mail. (For more on the importance of face-to-face interactions at work, see Want your Team to be productive? Get them talking.)

If you want your people to take their health seriously, you can’t have lunch at your desk every day, holding your mouse in one hand and a sandwhich in the other.

If you are passionate about your team understanding their role in the organisation, you have to spend your time talking to people in other parts of the business.

Stop for a moment.

Consider how you are spending your time.

Then consider your own objectives and the aims of the organisation.

Are you spending most of your time pursuing those aims or are you still pursuing those set three years ago?

Chances are that your organisation has changed in the last three years.

Has the focus shifted from chasing up new business to nurturing current client relationships?

Has your team shrunk considerably and so the communication processes are now overcomplicated and time consuming?

Have you created new roles in your team but you still spend your own time in the same way as before you created them?

We often give our attention to adapting our budget or shaping our strategy as things change around us, but do you seroiusly consider how change in your organisation affects how you need to spend your time?

And do you ever stop to consider what the way in which you spend your time signals to others?

Make sure the way in which you allocate your time suits the organisation NOW and not how it operated three years ago.

Leave a comment

Posted by on June 28, 2012 in change, leadership


Tags: , , ,

Emotions During Change: The Mega-Mix Reality

There is no question about it: when we have to shift the way we do things, emotions surface.

They might be positive or they might be negative, but they will be there. That’s complicated enough, but we also have to remember that often we will experience more than one emotion at a time.

We might feel excited about the new opportunities ahead of us but at the same time we might be frozen by the possibility of failure. In our head, the future looks bright but in the present,the reality is that we are scared to take that leap forward. The fear of failure freezes our desire to change: after all, if we don’t try, we will never fail.

If you are in charge of a business change initiative, if you are trying to convince someone to try something new or even if you just know that things just can’t stay the same, you cannot influence others without considering the mega-mix of emotions that are likely to arise. All sorts of thoughts, all sorts of questions, all sorts of pictures, all underlined by a range of feelings.

The one thing you must not stop doing is communicating. In an attempt to make sense of what is going around them, people will fill any perceived gaps of information with their own conclusions. The effects on those who are having a hard time is obvious: their imagination can lead to perceive things as if they are much worse than they really are. But you also need to consider that those who are excited by the change, who are directing their energy to giving it a good try, might also be filling the gaps in themselves – something that later on can lead to disappointment. And remember, you won’t only need to implement change, you will also need to continue making sure things work out in the long-term.

So let your people know how often you will communicate with them and through what channel.

Is a half-hour meeting possible once a week?

If an update via e-mail is more practical, how will you make sure that you are answering people’s questions and not just giving them the information that you think they need? How about opening your Inbox to questions a day before your update is due?

Talk to people, listen in the corridors, get a feel for what is happening in the organisation. Acknowledge that it takes time to adapt, that it’s not easy.

You are not just changing systems or outputs: you are asking people to change. And that is complicated.

For more thoughts on Helping Employees Cope With Change, read the article by the same name on the HBR Blog.

1 Comment

Posted by on June 12, 2012 in change, leadership


Tags: , , ,

Making Tough Decisions

Leadership training, books and articles often make us feel like leading others is plain sailing.

The reality, as you well know, is very different.

Being in a position of leadership means making difficult decisions. For most people, it also means having to question and challenge decisions that were made by someone else or that come “from the top”.

This is particularly tricky if the organisation is continuously investing in a decision that was made some time ago but which is obviously not ripping any rewards. I’m not talking here about decisions which might not be beneficial in the short-term but have a positive effect in the long-term. I’m talking about Escalation of Commitment, continuing with a decision because we have already invested so much in it, we think we have no other choice.

One of the reasons why organisations find themselves pursuing a course of action that is doomed (to put it bluntly) is that the person who made that decision is still around. Usually someone in a top level position who will not back down. So, what do we do then? What happens if we see that, in order for our business to move forwards, we must challenge someone else’s strategy?

Neil Smith, in his blog post at the HBR blog this week, suggests including this “toxic decision” as part of a wider change initiative. Don’t single it out: somebody thought about it carefully at some point, invested energy and time in it. If they feel like they are under attack, they might just become defensive and lose perspective. What are the broad consequences of continuing to commit to the original decision? How might adapting it change the direction of the organisation? Of course, don’t just rely on your opinion. Consult left, right and centre in the organisation. In Neil Smith’s words:

Leadership is both about making tough decisions and about keeping good people on board, making their best efforts. In the interests of ensuring the latter, too many managers neglect the former.

Wide consultation will not only help you keep those good people on board but also make sure that you appreciate the full consequences of your “tough decision”. It might even at some point, flag up something you weren’t expecting which makes you change your mind.

Yes, we are allowed to get it wrong every once in a while.

Further reading:

For more on challenging an executive decision, read Neil Smith’s article Court Controversy, Remove a Barrier to Change.

Wondering whether you are picking the right fights? Have a look at the book “The Right Fight” by Ken Favaro and Saj-Nicole Jon.

Leave a comment

Posted by on June 6, 2012 in change, leadership


Tags: , ,

Don’t Forget Your People

A few weeks ago I attended one of the most inspiring talks I’ve been at for a while.

David Pendleton and Jon Cowell from Said Business School in Oxford were talking about the need for shifting how we think about leadership development and practice, especially when times are tough. They touched  on many other aspects of leadership and provided plenty of advice based mainly on meta studies. Most of the issues they raised are covered in Pendleton’s book (co-authored with Adrian Furnham) which I haven’t read yet,  but if it’s anything as inspiring, solid and useful as their talk, I highly recommend it.

There is one thing I particularly remember about the talk, which is an important aspect of self-awareness.

In times of crisis, in times of urgency, in times when we need to change, we’re more likely to switch to our preferred way of working. If we are not aware of this, then we can’t judge how we are affecting our work, our team and our organisation.

If you consider that many managers have been promoted to their role because they excelled at doing, at planning and executing (plans, not people!), then it follows that in times of crisis, these will become their focus. In times of crisis, managers with these preferred modes of working will busy themselves with paper and numbers.

The danger is then that all the “people skills” are left to one side and we stop asking ourselves questions such as:

Is everyone aligned?
Do they all understand the WHY behind the changes?
Is there an atmosphere of support , especially if everyone is just “getting on with it”?
Can everyone  see some sort of light at the end of the tunnel? (For no-one wants to be running towards a brick wall!)

All these things don’t magically happen, they have to be worked at. They take time and they take energy. They also involve thinking long-term instead of short-term, which is really difficult when everything seems urgent.

If you are someone who will instinctively communicate, who will draw people in when the pressure is on, great, just make sure that you are also working to some sort of plan and not getting so involved in making sure that everyone is ok, that planning and strategy are forgotten.

If, on the other hand, the thought of having to spend so much time talking to the rest of your team and enabling collaboration between them doesn’t energise you, don’t worry. There is another way.  If that is not your strength, you have two options.

1) Learn how to change your behaviour, plan moments in your day to interact with your team and ask for feedback and advice from those people you know are great enablers of collaboration.


2) Find someone who will take over that particular role for a limited period of time, to ensure it doesn’t get neglected. This could be official or unofficial; for a short or long time. Can someone be your eyes and ears while you are on numerous strategic meetings or trying to find your way through numerous spreadsheets, to make sure you are aware of where your team are at and they know where you are?

I don’t mean a “spy”. I mean someone who knows where to reach you; who can say “Diane’s not around this week but she’s very aware of that issue and wants to address it next week”. Someone who will say to you, “Shane did a brilliant job the other day, did you remember to thank him? He’s saved us loads of time and money.”

I understand that this might not be easy, as it could be seen as admitting a weakness. Well, it probably is, but it is also a way of showing that you know yourself, that you are aware that this can become a problem during a period of time when you can’t afford for it to get in the way of your team and organisation’s survival. Defining clearly how you will address this in times of crisis should help everyone around you perform at their best.

We can’t all excel at everything, but if you are in charge of people, it is extremely important to make sure that you stay in touch with how they are doing and that you can support their work as much as possible, through feedback, guidance and of course, communication.


Posted by on May 16, 2012 in change, leadership


Tags: , , ,