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?

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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.


Managing Transitions: Real-Life Examples – Part 1

This is a true life personal experience.  I’ll bet many readers of this have either had a similar experience or knows others who have.   While this story is about an experience in my personal life, it is absolutely representative of what people go through during organizational change.  I’ll follow-up this story with another real-life story from a corporate setting.  For reference, it may be useful to read a previous post: Why do we need Organizational Change Management?

The Blackberry to Android Transition

BB to Android flat

I had a Blackberry for a long time.  It was a corporate issue standard Blackberry with the hard QWERTY keyboard and the small screen.  Over the years I had become intimately familiar with all its capabilities and its quirks.  I knew that my phone functionality was hopelessly outdated, and that RIM, the maker of Blackberry, was in trouble and that they are probably going to be extinct soon.  I didn’t care.  I was going to use my Blackberry till the bitter end.  I was solidly in my comfort zone and solidly in denial – afraid to “let go” as long as I didn’t have to.

Have-to arrived sooner than I anticipated.  The USB connector that is used to charge the battery became intermittent and the phone had to be replaced or I risked losing everything.  I opted to go with a state-of-the-art Android-based phone.

One of the features I utilized on the Blackberry was the speed dial function.  My wife’s name is Wendy.  I setup the W key as a speed dial to call her cell phone.  I could do this by touch without looking – absolutely safely – anytime, anywhere, and did it often while driving.

Not long after the transition to the Android phone, I needed to call my wife from the road.  I instinctively reached for the W key but only got glass.  I pulled off the road.  I had to get my reading glasses out and scroll through menus to place a call to my wife.  This was clearly going to be a problem, but I wanted this new phone to work.  That night I tried to create a speed dial key with no success.   I eventually resorted to asking my 18 yr. old daughter to make a speed dial key for me.  To my astonishment she had no success either.  I was extremely frustrated at this point.  I hated the new phone it – I was sure it would never work.  I wanted to go back to the old way. I was ready to go to the phone store and exchange this modern marvel for a tried-and-true Blackberry and ride RIM into the sunset.

A few days later I was complaining about my new phone experience to a colleague.  She asked if I had a headset for the phone and that I should get it and plug it in.  Once attached, she directed me to “press the button.”  I had no idea what she was talking about.  I turns out that a small bump on the headphone wire that I thought was the microphone, was actually a button.  So I pressed the button.   I heard a computer generated voice ask me to, “Say a command.”  After a few moments of confusion and discussion with my colleague I finally commanded, “Call Wendy.”  Within a few second my wife’s cell phone was ringing.  After explaining to Wendy that I really didn’t need to talk to her about anything, I thanked my colleague.  …And I started thinking completely differently about my new phone.  Cut to the end – I now love my phone and wonder how I could have ever considered going back to a Blackberry.

I went through the four classic phases of personal change.

Four Phases of Change

I started off in Denial.  Despite compelling logic and clear technological advantages, I was not going to change.  I only changed when forced to by an external cause beyond my control.

Once I had made the superficial technical change, the real changes began.  I was stuck in Bridges’ Neutral Zone, vacillating between Resistance and Exploration in the Four Phase model.  I was futilely trying to make the new phone work the way my old phone did.  It wasn’t until a “change agent” held my hand and showed me a solution to my personal source of frustration that I moved permanently from Resistance to Exploration.

Once I began exploring all the other features of the new phone I was hooked – I was committed to the new way of doing things.  I have no desire to return to the old way and have become a vocal advocate for the new way.

This was a major “a-ha” moment for me.  I saw that there were many important lessons here for every organizational change practitioner.  To paraphrase Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline, “Although we are all interested in large scale change, we have to change one mind at a time.”

  1. The technical change itself is frequently simple, and seems trivial.  If you don’t drill down to the “how will you actually use this device” level – you can never understand the sources of frustration and the opportunities from the end-user’s perspective.
  2. It is impossible to anticipate all the ways that technology or process changes will impact end-users in the “future state.”  Pilot implementations are essential to understand how they will actually do things, and to develop meaningful training that will hit the mark
  3. A knowledgeable change agent, ready and able to address the needs of the impacted population is essential.

The Key to Accountability: “We should…” vs. “I will…”

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”   – Leo Tolstoy

I have frequently been asked, “How can our organization increase accountability?” And I typically respond with something like, “Make an action plan and then publicize it.” It’s well-understood that making a public commitment is a very powerful motivator.

There’s strong empirical evidence to show that a choice made actively – one that’s spoken out loud or written down or otherwise made explicit – is considerably more likely to direct someone’s future conduct than the same choice left unspoken. [1]

This is very simple, and easy to do. But for some reason, organizations struggle with getting to that public commitment.

I think I’ve stumbled upon the missing link.

To make a long story short: I was recently part of a series of division-level planning meetings. There were many ideas raised, dutifully recorded on flip charts, and there were good discussions and acclaims of, “Yes, we should do that.”

Toward the final hour of the last meeting, the division leader ended the discussion and challenged his team – It’s time to stop the “we should…” and start the “I will…”

The impact of this simple statement was astonishing. I’ve been reflecting on it since then, trying to put my finger on what had happened. Here’s what I came up with:

We should - I will table

  1. Consensus is the enemy of accountability – it can prevent it. It “feels good” and teams have a sense of accomplishment after reaching a consensus. But a leader who lets a discussion end at “we should…” is enabling the inaction problem.
  2. “We should…” allows room for pie-in-the-sky ideas. There is a time and place for that. But “I will…” immediately causes you to focus on what is actually achievable within your control; within your time and resource constraints. We should solve world hunger – who disagrees with that? What will you do to solve world hunger?
  3. Similarly, “we should…” allows thinking in long time-frames, while “I will…” results in near-term focus.
  4. “We should…” allows undefined solutions – i.e., “we should automate that process.” “I will…” thinking makes you think of the actual process of developing a solution. I.e., I will sponsor a meeting to define the goal and begin documenting the current state.
  5. “We should; reduce scrap, improve customer satisfaction, decrease cycle-time.” All of these examples are good goals, but they are not actionable. Instead, try “I will; propose two ways to reduce scrap, Improve customer satisfaction, decrease cycle-time.” These are tangible actions that an individual can plan to execute.


Too frequently, teams mistakenly think that their goal is simply to agree on something they “should” do; a vision, a goal, or a direction. If you are coaching a business leader, remind them; As soon as you agree on “we should…” – follow it up with “I will…”

[1] Cialdini, Robert B. “Harnessing the Science of Persuasion.” Harvard Business Review, October 2001: 72-79.

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.

Sparking Creativity – How to Get Good Ideas

I had the good fortune to catch Austin Kleon, pitching his latest book and talking about creativity, at Translator in Milwaukee over this summer.  During his talk he posed an interesting question that turns out to be really insightful: Are you a net giver or receiver of good ideas?  

It’s great to share your ideas with others, and there are many good reasons why you should continue to do that, but this is about input.  Are you getting enough new ideas?  We all know the importance of continuous learning – we preach it all the time!  But are we practicing it?

I took Austin’s question to heart.  I thought about my net idea ratio.  I decided to increase my idea input.  A list of suggestions follows.  Some of these came from Austin Kleon, some from me.  Some I was already doing, some I’ve started doing.  Some I plan on doing.

Where can you get ideas?  Give some of these a try:

  • Join the local chapters of professional organization like the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) or the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) or others.  Most offer monthly chapter meetings where you can hear from others outside of your normal circles, and do some networking as well.   Membership in most of these groups’ national organizations will probably get you a subscription to a good magazine too.
  • Just go to the TED website right now and get on their mailing list.  There is so much good stuff on TED that you can spend weeks watching it all.  My suggestion: Find a bunch of stories you want to hear, download the audio or video to your computer, transfer it to your mobile device and listen to it during your commute.
  • Subscribe to a great general interest magazine like Atlantic, Harpers, or Vanity Fair.  They feature very well-written, thought-provoking articles in every issue.  There are lots of others.  Go to the magazine section in your local library or book store and browse a few.
  • Subscribe to professional magazines like Harvard Business Review, or Strategy + Business.  They usually have well-researched, business-related articles.  Magazines such as Wired and Fast Company, if nothing else, will keep you up to date on cutting edge technology.
  • This is counterintuitive, but you should pursue your hobbies and the arts.  Go fishing, build a model airplane – do things that make you happy – that recharge you – and take your mind off of the sources of anxiety in your life.
  • Do things that might inspire you. Go to a museum, or a concert.  Go on an architecture tour in a nearby city.  Go to a national park.
  • Take a walk!  The link between moderate exercise and mental and physical health is well-known.   Plan 20-30 minutes into you work schedule at lunch time to go outside and take a walk.  Try it.  You’ll feel better, and think better, in the afternoon every time.  Make this an “A” priority.  It’s as important, maybe more important, than any meeting you will attend.
  • Use your hands!  This is a great one from Austin Kleon.  Step away from the computer.  Get paper, pencils, color markers, scissors, glue sticks, post-its.  Write, draw, doodle.  Get tactile!

Every organization is trying to foster innovation.  We are all individually challenged to boost our creativity.  These are just a few ways that we can make that happen.   For more ideas, visit Austin Kleon’s website – Steal Like an Artist.


Types of Change Initiatives – Early Conversations to have with Stakeholders

A common complaint that I hear from org change professionals is, “we aren’t brought in early enough on a project.”   However, what I see in practice is that these folks are at the table early enough, the real problem is failure to engage sponsors in the right conversations early enough.  Being consistently invited to the very first kick-off meeting will not change anything.  Focusing sponsors on the issues that will frame the org change effort will!

The goal for any org change leader is to get the impacted population through the transition/neutral zone as quickly and painlessly as possible, to get to the desired productivity improvement.  In other words, minimize the depth and duration of the “performance dip” and sustain the productivity gains.  To clarify these points, please follow this link to read “Why Do We Need Change Management?”

I have seen many varieties of Change Readiness surveys, and Organizational Impact Assessments.  I hate to say it, but I believe that virtually every one I am familiar with is of little or no value.  That’s another blog topic.  

It is essential that early in a project, the sponsor(s) and project leadership understand the type of change being presented by their initiative. 

Three factors to consider

Not all changes are created equal.  I think we all understand that.  Some are the, “just get over it” type, and some need a serious adoption strategy.  I plan on exploring this in depth in the next few months.  There are three big considerations that I see right now:

1.  What is changing?  Culture, Process/Technology, or Strategy/Org Structure

2.  The scope of the change.  Is it Developmental, Transitional or Transformational?

3.  Availability of alternatives to the change.   Is the change optional or is there a workaround?

1.      What is Changing?

What you need to change will have an enormous impact on your change strategy.  Generally, changes to Process and/or Technology are relatively straightforward.  Changes to Strategy and/or Organization Structure (including favorites like downsizing!) are tougher.  Changes to culture…  Well, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” as the saying goes.   I plan on expanding on this section later.  This is a book by itself.

2.      Scope of the Change

The scope of change can be loosely categorized into three buckets; Developmental, Transitional, and Transformational.


After Developmental changes, the impacted population will be doing the same things, only better.  In other words, there will be very little behavior change required.  For example, upgrading Internet Explorer from a well-known version to a new release, or physically moving your workspace from one cubicle to a similar one on a different floor.  Most people will make these types of transition with little or no help.   There is little or no value in dedicating Org Change resources to these kinds of changes.  There is very little “behavior change” necessary and there is no alternative available to go back to.  Everyone will eventually reach the “committed” phase.


After Transitional changes, the impacted population will shift from current state to a known, defined alternate state.  For example, upgrading an Applicant Tracking System for your HR Recruiters.  Many will not make it through transitional changes smoothly without help, and there is risk of a long drop-off in productivity without timely communications, training and support.  

There is significant risk with transitional changes that must be noted.  Frequently, what seems to be a straightforward transitional change can turn out to be a transformational change, and not adequately addressed and resourced.  For that reason alone, applying organizational change resources early will add value.  Pilots or proof-of-concept studies with the impacted population should be considered and encouraged.  They will surface the true nature of your change initiative, as well as help gain buy-in, help with training development, etc.


Transformational change begins with a known current state, but an unknown, or poorly defined end state.   Examples would be integration of an acquired business, or a major business unit reorganization.  During transformational change, there is a high risk of failure to achieve the intended outcomes without a serious organizational change management effort including a robust organizational change strategy, communications, and training and support.  The OC strategy must include visible, committed leadership able to articulate a compelling “heart & head” vision (i.e., we can’t tell you exactly what the final state is, but we can paint a picture for you of what we are trying to achieve).

3.     Availability of Alternatives to the Change

The second thing to zero in on is whether or not there will be any alternatives to the new process in the future state.   In other words, if the impacted population can go back to the old way when they encounter obstacles, they probably will

No Alternatives

Frequently a change will allow for no alternatives, such as a business network administrator upgrading your MS-Office applications.  With no training or communications at all, most users will eventually become comfortable and proficient with the new version.  There may be resistance and frustration initially, but it will eventually subside without any intervention – the adoption rate will be 100%.  Timely communications and training could decrease the depth of, and shorten the performance dip, but the business would not be in jeopardy if it didn’t happen.

 When given the option, it is a good idea to apply the burn-the-boats strategy, a.k.a. the “Cortez” method.  While this may seem harsh at first glance, it is not.  There is compelling evidence that when people do not have an option, they will rationalize the only remaining option and find happiness with it.  If they retain the option to return to the old way they never make the rationalization and remain mired in-transition and unhappy.  See the work of Dan Gilbert on “Synthetic Happiness” on TED.

 In July 1519, his men took over Veracruz:  In order to eliminate any ideas of retreat, Cortés scuttled his ships. [Wikipedia]

Alternative Options Remain Available

Sometimes you must leave a legacy process/system in place while work-in-process runs off, or a manual paper-based process always remains as an alternative to a new automated system.  This is the challenge that most people think of when they think about the purpose of org change management – increasing the adoption rate of a new process.  Adoption rate is a common org change metric.

 Unless there is some overwhelming motivation for adoption when alternatives will remain available, you probably need to apply a robust org change strategy.  E.g., if users are permitted to continue to use legacy system there is high probability that they will return to it when they encounter “resistance” with the new system. 

 When alternatives will be available, your org change strategy must include pilots or proof-of-concept studies with the impacted population to drive “exploration” to identify and mitigate factors that will drive users back to the legacy process.  Mitigation might include providing feedback to the system developers for system modification, or to develop training and communications for deployment.  Measurement and incentive systems are necessary as well.

 More on all of this soon.