Tag Archives: leadership

Using the Change Curve in Communication during Change

Change theory is useful to help us begin to create some order in what is a very chaotic process: change. No matter how many processes or plans you include in your change management strategy, at some point change will be chaotic as it involves people. People are different from each other: they have different priorities in life, different concerns, different private lives, different reasons for coming into work, etc.

Change in an organisation might throw people into the unknown. Individuals might have to experience ways of working they hadn’t encountered before. It is therefore difficult to foresee how your team members will react: they might even be surprised themselves.

One very popular change model which might help during the management of change is the curve created by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. After interviewing cancer patients as they came to terms with their disease, Kubler-Ross found that individuals tipically went through five emotional stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance. (If you enjoy watching Frasier, there is an episode which illustrates these stages of grief very well, I think it’s the first episode in series 6.)

Kubler-Ross then went on to research how this model fitted in with other life-changing experiences. It is worth saying at this point, that the psychologist was very aware that the model was just that, a model, and that the emotional journey through change is particular to each individual.

When facilitating discussion around personal change at work, I prefer to use the model created by Adams, Hayes and Hopson, who added a state of Shock/Relief at the beginning (also referred to as “immobilisation”) and the stages of experimentation and discovery before the change is integrated.

Change Curve

It’s worth noting how much self-esteem rises and falls, how there are quite a few emotions involved in the process and the fact that it takes time to be comfortable with the change.

This model might help you to structure your communication during change or to give you an idea of how people in your team and organisation might behave during transitions. But this is not a blueprint. There are plenty of other emotions that will surface and they will not appear neatly one after the other. Hopefully the curve will help you to anticipate some problems.

So, as you manage change in your team:

  • Don’t be surprised if there is a loss of productivity when the change is announced as the information sinks in.
  • Set some time aside for people to vent their anger or frustration, so that they can get their anger (or fears, insecurities etc) off their chest. Even if the change is welcome or supposed to improve their conditions, self-esteem will drop at some point.
  • Be prepared to repeat information over and over again. It is difficult to assimilate or even hear new information when all sorts of emotions are bubbling up inside.

And above all, allow yourself to feel all sorts of emotions, it comes with the job.


Posted by on December 10, 2012 in change, leadership


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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.

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Posted by on June 28, 2012 in change, leadership


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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.

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Posted by on June 12, 2012 in change, leadership


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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.

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Posted by on June 6, 2012 in change, leadership


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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


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Why We Can’t Demand Creativity

When we are faced with a problem, we think all our energies must go into trying to solve it. Keep at it, focus, focus! Keep staring at the problem until we find the logical solution. It seems like we might be going about it the wrong way.

Persistence is incredibly important. If we give up when we hit the first brick wall, we will never advance, we will never create and the world will stand still.

Creativity is more necessary now than ever. Not to grow bigger, get richer or increase our output, but just to survive. The world is evolving, throwing up challenges we’ve never encountered before. Challenges which change every day in nature, in size, in complexity. How can we keep up?

That’s where imagination and creativity come in: problems, now more than ever, don’t get solved in the old ways. 10 years ago, we might throw money at the problem: now there is none to invest. Decisions are being made that solve today’s problems leaving the challenges that tomorrow will bring unaddressed.

Meanwhile, people in organisations are being told “to get creative”, to have ideas, without being given the time and space that creativity needs. Managers, team leaders and “bosses” are still demanding that people be creative. A friend of mine who is shadowing a manager at the moment, shared with me some examples of a very dubious management style. The woman she is observing rarely gives any positive feedback. All her feedback is negative criticism which comes in the shape of public scolding and telling off. Yet in meetings, she will tell her people: “I want you to have ideas!” Meanwhile, she tolerates no failure so everyone is scared to death of taking risks, including having ideas that might be inappropriate or even “bad” ones.

I’m a creative person. Many of my ideas arrive in the shape of artistic projects but I’m also good in a crisis, good at devising new ways of working and creating learning packages in different forms. But tell me to

have an idea

and my brain freezes.

However,  if you present me with a problem and give me 24hrs to think about it, I’ll come back to you with a few things to try out.

During those 24 hours, I will write the problem down. I will gather data, read some articles, surf the web. I will ask others what they think, I will sketch out what the solution will look like. I’ll do all that and more.

But the best solution won’t emerge during all that activity. It will appear the next morning when I’m having a swim; or when I’m daydreaming, standing on the bus; or when I take my 20 minute walk around the park.

Moments of insight are preceded by the same brain activity as that which takes place when we are relaxed (for more on this see Jonah Lehrer’s new book Imagine: How Creativity Works). Maybe that’s why when we concentrate really hard on a problem, riddle or puzzle, we can’t solve it.We’re staring (literally or not) at the problem and our brain is constantly pushing hard. Problems which need new solutions can’t be solved by feeling the pressure all the time. To solve them, relaxing has to be part of the process.

Putting people under pressure to be creative might help those who work best when they have an adrenaline rush or when they are afraid, but if you want sustained creativity to get you through the tough times and help you excel in the good times, you have to give people space. (Plus, the stress will eventually have negative effects.)

Space to see the world beyond the four walls of your organisation and its issues; space to let their eyes, ears and minds take in different points of view; space to pursue an interest outside their industry; space to relax to let their brain process the information coming in and dig further into their brains to make the unusual connections which will put i

The need to operate through change may cause panic; this panic might generate stress which will prevent us from finding moments during which our brain can relax and our subconscious help us in putting it all together. No matter how much you thrive under pressure (if you do), remember that not everyone can solve problems and create new solutions without finding some time to disconnect. Be sensitive. Be creative.


Posted by on May 9, 2012 in change, leadership


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From the Comfort Zone to the Discovery Zone

Here are some questions I hope will help you turn change into a learning opportunity.

The comfort zone. That “zone” that a lot of trainers want to take you beyond. I don’t like that phrase.

For a start it implies that we are, well, starting from a point of comfort and that might not always be the case. We might develop habits which are actually preventing us from feeling comfortable: in charge, on top of things and well, happy. However, changing them fills us with fear. Fear of the unknown. Ah, fear, we already know that it is the biggest block to progress – I’ve already spoken enough about fear before, so let’s get back to the comfort zone.

The reason why I don’t like the phrase is because it suggests that, to go outside it, you need to feel uncomfortable. There is a belief that in order to progress, in order to learn, you have to step outside your comfort zone, you need to do things that you are uncomfortable with in order to heighten your awareness and see things differently. Maybe that is the case, but what would you rather be told: that you are going to step out of your comfort zone or that you are going to step into the discovery zone? Both might fill you with a little bit of fear (depending on your personality) but which one has a spark of suspense, a hint of a promise of an uplifting experience?

Change, whether initiated by us or imposed on us by others, will always have an element of discovery within it. We might discover something about ourselves, something about those around us, something about the way the team operates, something about “how things are done” in our organisation.

When thinking about the effect of change, I always start with the effect it has on the individual.

Have a think.

How does change affect you?

It might be better to think about a specific instance, when you had to change something about the way you operate, about the way you behave, about the way you interact with others.

What kind of effect would this have had on others? Were you energised? Was it contagious? Were you frustrated? Was that contagious?

Be aware of what is oozing out of you and how it is affecting everyone else. Be sensitive too. Change will have different effects on different people in a team (I’m keeping this post work-related, for simplicity’s sake) – be sensitive enough to mould your joy if you know that someone around you is struggling with change. Yes, use it to show them there is light at the end of the tunnel, but be mindful enough of their worries.

In a similar way, if you are going through a difficult time, look for support where possible to move on. You don’t need to pretend that times aren’t tough, you don’t need to hide your discontent, but don’t let it wash everything you do and spread to those around you.

Find the right place to voice your concerns.

Try to see your problems from a different perspective. Imagine you are advising a friend, what would you do? (I have observed that we are always better at giving other people advice than guiding our own actions ourselves. For research on this, visit Daniel Pink’s blog.)

If you are struggling with change, it might be useful to look for little nuggets of learning hidden amongst the chaos. What can I learn about myself? What am I learning to do differently that will be useful beyond this experience? How is this changing my relationship with others? Am I acquiring new knowledge, new skills?

Sometimes it might take us a while to see clearly though the discovery zone and sometimes, what we learn won’t always have positive connotations.

But if we have no choice but to go through change, why not try to get comfortable with what we are going through and look for little learning gems?

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Posted by on April 20, 2012 in change, leadership


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