Category Archives: Background

General Information – Little or no opinion of mine offered

Strategies for Delivering Unpopular News

The mass never comes up to the standard of its best member, but on the contrary degrades itself to a level with the lowest.” – Henry David Thoreau
Recent experiences of Republican congressional members returning to their home districts during recess to explain President Trump’s proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act are instructive for the design of organizational change management (OCM) strategies.
How should you plan to communicate when the news will be unpopular?
We want to surface resistance, and we want to give voice to those closest to the work being affected. Evidence suggests that despite the additional time and cost, it makes sense to plan for small groups, or one-on-one meetings to deliver messages and get feedback from affected stakeholders.
I’ll never forget a meeting I attended many years ago where senior management assembled all the union machinists in an organization to update them on hazardous material safety. About ten minutes into the meeting one outspoken participant broke the ice with an accusation that leadership was concealing the true hazards of one of the materials that they routinely worked with. Within minutes, it became a shouting match, a mob mentality had taken over, meaningful communication stopped, and the meeting had to be abruptly ended. Eventually, one-on-one meetings were scheduled, not only to share the original information, but to repair the damage that occurred during the mob scene.
Excerpts from a recent New York Times editorial that highlights this issue in detail and references some of the research follows.

Can the G.O.P. Turn Back the Tide of Town Hall Anger?
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in “The Conduct of Life”: “Masses are rude, lame, unmade, pernicious in their demands and influence, and need not to be flattered, but to be schooled. I wish not to concede anything to them, but to tame, drill, divide, and break them up, and draw individuals out of them.”
Thoreau and Emerson argued that crowds add up to something less than the sum of their parts. The principle behind this is called “deindividuation,” in which an individual’s social constraints are diminished and distorted by being part of a crowd that forms to express a particular point of view. The French psychologist Gustave Le Bon first explained this concept in his magisterial 1895 text “The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind.” Le Bon found that crowds were inherently “unanimous, emotional and intellectually weak.”
Lots of research confirms this, showing that deindividuation can lower inhibitions against immoral behavior. In one of my favorite studies, researchers set up a bowl of candy for Halloween trick-or-treaters, told them to take just one piece and then left them alone. Some of the children were in anonymous groups, others were by themselves. When kids were part of a group, 60 percent took more than one piece of candy. When they were by themselves but not asked their names, 20 percent cheated. But when they were alone and asked their names, only 10 percent took more than they were allotted.
Of course, it stands to reason that deindividuation could improve individuals instead of making them worse. We can all think of cases in which we have been swept up in a wave of kindness and compassion in a group, even in spite of our personal feelings. Group polarization, in which individuals are pushed emotionally in the general direction of the crowd, can be either positive or negative.

The common error is when leaders treat the whole group like one individual. Remember Le Bon’s theory that a crowd is stronger, angrier and less ideologically flexible than an individual. Getting irate or defensive will always be counterproductive. Similarly, it is mostly futile to try talking over a protest chant.
The opportunity is to “re-individuate” audience members — to treat people as individuals and not as part of a mass. This is done not by acknowledging questions shouted anonymously but by asking audience members to physically separate from the mass and identify themselves if they wish to speak. When people detach from a group, the research suggests they will become more ethical, rational and intelligent.

A link to the entire article is below


#Leadership is Dead and our #Performance

#Leadership is Dead and our #Performance #Evaluation Processes are Broken #SHRM

Managing Transitions: Real-Life Examples – Part 2

This is another true life personal experience straight from the Org Change trenches.  I’ll bet many readers of this have either had a similar experience or know others who have.   Part one of this story is about an experience in my personal life.  Click here to go back and read Managing Transitions:  Real-Life Examples – Part 1.   It may also be useful to read a previous post: Why do we need Organizational Change Management?

Scan to QR flat

Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Transition

Virtually every large organization is using technology to manage their HR processes.  The recruiting function in most large organizations utilizes an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to post job openings, manage applications, and manage the interview/selection process.  This story has been edited to reflect only the issues surrounding one set of functionality; campus recruiting.  Obviously there was much more involved in this project.

A recent client did a significant amount of college recruiting.  The campus recruiters would collect resumes at college career fairs.  They would then go back to their office and manually create a candidate record in their home-brew ATS, then scan and attach the pdf of the resume to the new candidate record.  This was a labor-intensive process that was prone to errors.   Many recruiters opted to not use the ATS at all, preferring to keep a spreadsheet and paper records.   Leadership was frustrated because essential business metrics were difficult or impossible to gather.  Needless to say, this process was painful for everyone involved.  It had to change.  Even so, the recruiters were not enthusiastic about changing the way they did things and were reluctant to provide support for the project.

When the project team talked to the college recruiters about their requirements for a new system, they said, “We need the ability to scan resumes and get them into the ATS faster.”  This is typical of what Business Analysts (BA) hear on IT projects; I want the new system to do what I do now – just better.  A good BA can translate that into real requirements, and that is what was done on this project.  Most ATS’ these days don’t have any capability to manage paper documents at all; they rely on the applicant to submit a resume electronically, so finding an ATS that could “scan faster” was not going to happen.  However, many state-of-the-art ATS’ have other capabilities designed to address this specific need.

A group was selected to pilot the new system, based on their expressed willingness to be “guinea pigs” and the support of their leadership.  When the recruiters got there first overview of the new system they were flabbergasted, “Are you kidding me?  There is no way interface to the scanner?  I hate this!  It will never work for us.”  Fortunately the team had done its homework and anticipated this reaction, and had planned to walk them through the solution.

For each new campus recruiting event, the recruiter creates an event in the ATS.  This in turn, creates an on-line” Event Portal” linked to the ATS, with a form to capture candidate information.  It also generates a unique QR code for the event.  The recruiter then embeds the QR code in all the collateral that they create for the campus event.   At the event, the candidate scans the QR code with their smart phone and is then directed to the Event Portal.  Here they fill out a simple form that creates their record in the ATS, emails the recruiter their contact info, and emails them a link to upload their resume.

Once the recruiter pilot group understood how this system worked, how easy it was, and how much effort it saved them, they became raging advocates – they would’ve harmed us if we tried to switch them back to the old system.  Together we developed very effective, efficient training for the larger deployment.  Best of all, positive buzz about the new system spread fast, ahead of our formal communication plan, and soon campus recruiters across the enterprise were clamoring for the new system.

This story is typical of corporate IT application deployment projects.  The technical aspects of the deployment are relatively straightforward, but the impact on the end-user is transformational – it fundamentally changes the way they do their jobs. (See: Types of Org Change)

Four Phases of Change

It starts with denial; “We don’t need to change.  We know this process is bad but we know how to do it.”  The initial emotional /gut reaction is resistance; “This doesn’t work the way our old system did, it will never work.”  In a scenario like this, the key to achieving the desired business impact is by getting the adoption rate to 100%.  If the impacted population doesn’t experience success and feel the benefit of the new system quickly, their frustration can drive them back to their manual processes or to work-arounds.

A good Org Change consultant does their homework; anticipates the resistance, understands the source of it, and has an executable plan to address it.  This is where we earn our pay!  Identify a pilot group of early adopters and lead them by the hand into the Exploration phase.  Their real-life experience is then used to develop and/or refine the training materials that will be used to roll-out the system to the balance of the organization.  Their success stories become the core of your communications.

It is worth noting, that it is critical that someone knowledgable of orgnaizational behavior and change management is involved early in a project to identify transformational changes.  Too frequently I see teams assume that the technical deployment is simple so the impact on the end-user must be minimal.

Credibility as a Consultant – Expertise and Execution

This is the first of what I plan to be a series of posts on “A Foot Soldier’s Guide Leading Change.”  See “I am not Jack Welch” for additional background.

Recently I was asked how to go about establishing credibility as a consultant during the early phases of an engagement with a new client.  I immediately responded, “Expertise and execution.”  To make a long story short, this question eventually led to a more in-depth discussion about why I feel that way – what experiences formed that belief.  It took some reminiscing and some reflection, but three experiences eventually came to stand out in mind.  I thought they were worth sharing.

The First Time I Taught a Class

The first was shortly after the first time I ever taught a class.  In 1990, I had recently finished a graduate degree in instructional technology and I changed jobs to get an opportunity to teach classes.   I’ll never forget the debrief after my first attempt at teaching and the feedback I got from my boss, “If you said ‘um” one more time I was going to kill myself.”  But as many of you understand, I had been bitten by the bug.  I loved it and was determined to be good at it.  I wondered one day to my boss, “Wouldn’t it help if I were an expert in these subjects?”  He responded, “You only have to be one chapter ahead of the class.  That appears to be expertise to them.  They come into the room assuming that you are an expert.  As long as you don’t tell them you’re not, they will continue to think you are.”  He continued, “Expertise will give you more confidence, so by all means learn more.”  This has turned out to be true.  Listen to Brene Brown’s talk on TED (Start at 11:20 if you can’t watch both her talks).  Dare greatly!  Don’t be afraid of failure.  You just have to be “good enough” and then you must try!  Of course expertise is helpful – it’s always good to “have more in your pocket than what you show.”  But if you wait until you are “expert enough” to jump in, you may never jump at all.

Welcome to GE

The second experience was when I was hired as an instructional designer by GE in 1997 for a high-profile project run out of corporate headquarters.  I was brought in because of my experience with technology-enabled learning to work on the Six Sigma Quality Coach (SSQC) – GE’s first enterprise-wide intranet-based e-learning application (see: Slater, R., 1999. The GE Way Fieldbook. New York: McGraw-Hill; p139-144).   I had no idea what I was in for.  My first day on the job I flew to Schenectady, NY and jumped right in.  What honeymoon period?   By 1:00PM that day I’m in a working team meeting, literally surrounded by Harvard Business School, Boston Consulting / McKinsey alumni.  This was a very smart, very intense crowd.  It was pretty intimidating.  I kept a low profile while I got my feet on the ground.  That evening, I confided in my new boss that I felt like youngster who had just been thrown into the deep end of the pool.  She gave me some sage advice, “You were hired for your expertise.  Don’t worry about what they know.  Answer questions and offer insight about stuff you know.  If you don’t know the answer to a question, say ‘I don’t know’ – tell them when you’ll get back to them with the answer and then be sure to do it.”  She went on, “Ask questions when you don’t understand something, and don’t offer too many opinions about stuff that you don’t understand, and you’ll be fine.”  This advice got me through that project, and it has served me well throughout my career as a consultant.  Be realistic about what you do have expertise in, and what you do not!  Good as your intentions may be, straying into areas where someone else in the room is the expert might do you more harm than good.  Secondly, say confidently what you will do and then be sure to deliver.


The third was more recent.  I did some work for a company through Patina Solutions (This is a great organization, for more information – see their web page).  Their specialty is matching their client’s needs with a consultant who has deep expertise in that area.  There niche is “50-25” i.e., consultants over fifty years old with more than twenty-five years experience – hence “Patina.’    During the on-boarding for a project, a Patina account exec asked a probing question that has stuck with me, and has permanently shifted my mindset.  She asked, “How will you add value by Friday?”   I’ve been to many career workshops etc. over the years and been to many “What is your elevator speech?  – What is your sweet spot?” sessions.  However, this question focused me like never before.  With every project I begin now, I ask myself that question, and I continue to ask myself that question every Monday morning as I plan out the week ahead.  How will I add value by Friday?  This question makes you think hard about what technical expertise you bring to bear, what expertise you have regarding the client’s challenges and goals, and what you understand of your stakeholders and their perspectives.

In retrospect, these three experiences were formative and profound for me.  They are at the root of my approach with my clients today.  This exercise showed me the value of examining my beliefs, and understanding why I believe what I believe.

I am not Jack Welch – A Foot Soldier’s Guide Leading Change

There is no shortage of excellent material on change management available. More than likely, anyone reading this is familiar with the books by Kotter, Bridges, etc. They are all very good. I have referenced them extensively throughout my career. The problem (for lack of a better word) with virtually every one of the “Leading Change Effectively” books out there is that they are geared toward the high-level perspective of business leaders. You know what I mean… “Establish a vision, visible authentic leadership, yada yada yada…” Unfortunately I am not Jack Welch. I suspect that you are not either. I don’t get to set the vision, or to speak to the all-employee meeting. I have to try to drive change vicariously.
How do you as a consultant, or as an individual contributor, get change to happen when you are lucky to get 30 minutes a month one-on-one with a senior leader? Or you can only get 10 minutes on a leadership team agenda? Add to the mix that many of the people you are trying to reach don’t understand anything about organizational change management, but are sure that they do, and are equally sure that they don’t need you telling them about it.
I had an epiphany recently. There’s plenty of great reference material for the generals in the change management wars, but there is little to no good reference material for the foot soldiers (of which I am proud to count myself).
Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting new material from the view of the foot soldier. Some of it will be new, and some will be a revisit to some previous posts to change up the perspective.
This will be fun. Let’s see where this goes.

Great Quotes – Organizational Change and Leadership

I’ve accumulated a pretty good collection of quotes over the years.  I’ll be adding to these regularly.  Feel free to send me some of your favorites.

Organizational Change

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” – Charles Darwin

“If you don’t like change, you will like irrelevance even less.” – General Eric Shinseki (U.S. Army Chief of Staff, 1999-2003)

“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” –  W. Edwards Deming

“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action
rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” – Jack Welch

“We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change.  And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.” – Peter Drucker


“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.” – Albert Schweitzer

“When we do what we have to do we are compliant.  When we do what we choose to do we are committed.” – Marshall Goldsmith

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal” – Henry Ford


“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily.  To not dare is to lose oneself”  – Soren Kierkegaard

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new” – Albert Einstein

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination” – Albert Einstein

“Failure is the foundation of success; success is the lurking place of failure” – Lao Tzu

Why do we need Organizational Change Management?

“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start… ”
– Oscar Hammerstein II

What is change management?
Prosci defines Change Management as “… a structured process and set of tools for leading the people side of change to achieve a desired outcome.”
© Copyright Prosci 2010

I would add that it is an art form more than a science, and that it is leadership more than management.  But the part of the definition about the “…leading the people side of change to achieve a desired outcome” is dead-on.  There must be some desired outcome we want to achieve, and we need people to do things differently in order to achieve it.

The Bridges “Transitions” Model
The goal for any Org Change leader is to get the impacted population through the transition from the current state to the desired future state as quickly and painlessly as possible.  This was first described in 1947 by Kurt Lewin as the “Unfreeze – Change – Freeze” process, and more recently described by William Bridges as the “Letting Go – Neutral Zone – New Beginning” process (shown in Fig 1 below).

                                      Figure 1 – William Bridges “Transitions” model
Adapted from “Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change”  by William Bridges (3rd Ed. p5)

The Bridges model makes an important improvement over the Lewin model.  It shows how some people may very quickly “let go” of the old way move quickly through the Neutral Zone and get to the New Beginning (green arrow), while others may never let go (red arrow).  Most people fall in-between, they do let go but spend a long time struggling in the Neutral Zone (blue arrow).  These “blue arrow” folks are where change leaders earn their pay.   Let’s take a deeper look at this…

The “Denial-Resistance-Exploration-Commitment” Model
The model shown in Figure 2 below is a popular four-step change model demonstrated famously by the characters in “Who Moved My Cheese?”   This model easily relates back to the Bridges model.  The Denial phase requires acknowledging that change is necessary and that it is happening in order to Let Go.  Then the Resistance-Exploration phases while in the Neutral Zone, and finally the breakthrough to the New Beginning and a Commitment to the new desired future state.

Figure 2 – Four Phases of Change

The important concept here is that an individual in the Neutral Zone may go through several iterations of resistance – exploration – resistance – exploration before breaking out.  I attempted to indicate this by the squiggles in the blue arrow in Figure 1.  There is also the possibility that they may “give-up” and return to “the old way” if that option exists.

So we understand what people go through when we ask them to change.  How then does this manifest itself in the workplace in on-the-job performance?   Fortunately this is well-understood as well.

The “Performance Dip”
When significant change is introduced into a workplace, we expect those impacted by the change to experience the Kubler-Ross Change Cycle (Shock-Denial-Anger-Despair-Understanding-Acceptance-Moving on).  This manifests itself as a drop-off in business performance, as shown in Figure 3.  Eventually the business performance returns.   It is simple to map this back to the Denial-Resistance-Exploration-Commitment model as well.  When we introduce changes intending to improve business processes, we hope to see that business performance is eventually improved at the end of that cycle.  But if you are reading this, you probably know all too well that there is no guarantee of that.  Something like 65% of change initiatives fail to achieve their intended outcomes.

What does an Org Change Leader Do?
In a nutshell, there are three things we try to do:

  1. Decrease the depth of the performance dip
  2. Shorten the duration of the performance dip
  3. Sustain the gains in performance after the initiative is complete

We help avoid the cost of “Re-”
…As in re-design, re-deploy, re-work, re-launch, resign.

When a change initiative encounters significant resistance, and the impacted population has the option/power to pursue alternatives to the change, the stage is set for a failed initiative.  This is how projects wind-up being re-designed, and re-launched, with the subsequent cost overruns, opportunity costs, reputation and morale damage, and collateral damage to other projects.  There is big money involved in all of these.

This is why we need org change management.  This is where an org change leader earns their pay.  I will be addressing specific recommendations and some case studies in future postings very soon.