Tag Archives: Change Management

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


Organizational Change Management vs. Leadership

Do you hire dedicated organizational change consultants to help with the development and implementation of organizational change management (OCM) strategy and plans, or do you rely on your internal leadership to develop OCM strategy and plans?  This is a debate that has been going on for many years regarding the deployment of OCM resources in organizations.

My position is that Organizational Change Management is a core leadership competency that anyone who calls him/herself “leader” should be well-versed in.  In fact, I would go as far as to add, that anyone in a leadership role who is not skilled in OCM is, in-fact, not a competent leader.

On the surface, common sense tells me they are the same.  But to make my case, I’ll compare two well-known, highly-regarded models – one for OCM and one for leadership.

First, let’s look at a time-tested change management model, The Kotter 8-Step Model,[i] first published in 1996 and recently updated.

Kotter’s 8-Step Org Change Model (2015)

Step 1 – Create a Sense of Urgency

Craft and use a significant opportunity as a means for exciting people to sign up to change their organization.

Step 2 – Build a Guiding Coalition

Assemble a group with the power and energy to lead and support a collaborative change effort.

Step 3 – Form a Strategic Vision and Initiatives

Shape a vision to help steer the change effort and develop strategic initiatives to achieve that vision.

Step 4 – Enlist a Volunteer Army

Raise a large force of people who are ready, willing and urgent to drive change.

Step 5 – Enable Action by Removing Barriers

Remove obstacles to change, change systems or structures that pose threats to the achievement of the vision.

Step 6 – Generate Short-Term Wins

Consistently produce, track, evaluate and celebrate volumes of small and large accomplishments – and correlate them to results.

Step 7 – Sustain Acceleration

Use increasing credibility to change systems, structures and policies that don’t align with the vision; hire, promote and develop employees who can implement the vision; reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes and volunteers.

Step 8 – Institute Change

Articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success, and develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession.

Compare Kotter to a Leadership Model

For a leadership model, I’ll use what I consider to be the gold standard; the model put forward in 1987 by James Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner in “The Leadership Challenge.”[ii]  To make the comparison, I’ll insert relevant steps from Kotter following each component of their leadership model.  You might quibble with my choices, but you’ll get the idea.

The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership (Kouzes & Posner) – With Kotter added

Model the Way – Clarify Values, Set the Example

Leaders establish principles concerning the way people (constituents, peers, colleagues, and customers alike) should be treated and the way goals should be pursued. They create standards of excellence and then set an example for others to follow. Because the prospect of complex change can overwhelm people and stifle action, they set interim goals so that people can achieve small wins as they work toward larger objectives. They unravel bureaucracy when it impedes action; they put up signposts when people are unsure of where to go or how to get there; and they create opportunities for victory.

Kotter Step 5 – Enable Action by Removing Barriers

Remove obstacles to change, change systems or structures that pose threats to the achievement of the vision.

Kotter Step 6 – Generate Short-Term Wins

Consistently produce, track, evaluate and celebrate volumes of small and large accomplishments – and correlate them to results.

Inspire a Shared Vision – Envision the Future, Enlist Others

Leaders passionately believe that they can make a difference. They envision the future, creating an ideal and unique image of what the organization can become. Through their magnetism and quiet persuasion, leaders enlist others in their dreams. They breathe life into their visions and get people to see exciting possibilities for the future.

Kotter Step 1 – Create a Sense of Urgency

Craft and use a significant opportunity as a means for exciting people to sign up to change their organization.

Kotter Step 3 – Form a Strategic Vision and Initiatives

Shape a vision to help steer the change effort and develop strategic initiatives to achieve that vision.

Challenge the Process – Search for Opportunities, Experiment and Take Risks

Leaders search for opportunities to change the status quo. They look for innovative ways to improve the organization. In doing so, they experiment and take risks. And because leaders know that risk taking involves mistakes and failures, they accept the inevitable disappointments as learning opportunities.

Kotter Step 7 – Sustain Acceleration

Use increasing credibility to change systems, structures and policies that don’t align with the vision; hire, promote and develop employees who can implement the vision; reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes and volunteers.

Kotter Step 8 – Institute Change

Articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success, and develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession.

Enable Others to Act – Foster Collaboration, Strengthen Others

Leaders foster collaboration and build spirited teams. They actively involve others. Leaders understand that mutual respect is what sustains extraordinary efforts; they strive to create an atmosphere of trust and human dignity. They strengthen others, making each person feel capable and powerful.

Kotter Step 2 – Build a Guiding Coalition

Assemble a group with the power and energy to lead and support a collaborative change effort.

Kotter Step 4 – Enlist a Volunteer Army

Raise a large force of people who are ready, willing and urgent to drive change.

Kotter Step 5 – Enable Action by Removing Barriers

Remove obstacles to change, change systems or structures that pose threats to the achievement of the vision.

Encourage the Heart – Recognize Contributions, Celebrate the Values and Victories

Accomplishing extraordinary things in organizations is hard work. To keep hope and determination alive, leaders recognize contributions that individuals make. In every winning team, the members need to share in the rewards of their efforts, so leaders celebrate accomplishments. They make people feel like heroes.

Kotter Step 6 – Generate Short-Term Wins

Consistently produce, track, evaluate and celebrate volumes of small and large accomplishments – and correlate them to results.

In Summary

When you look at these two models side by side, the similarity is obvious.  You might argue that the difference between leadership and OCM is that OCM is about creating a strategy and plan to apply to a specific initiative whereas leadership is a continuous activity – like the difference between a project and a job.  Perhaps, but the skills required to be successful remain virtually identical.  I would push back by pointing out, that very few organizations have the luxury of managing one or two discrete change initiatives.  Most organizations are now perpetually managing many, complex, long-term initiatives.  The notion of “managing changes” is virtually obsolete.  In today’s world you must “lead change.”  Organizational change management is a core leadership competency, that anyone who wants to be a successful leader must have skill in.  It cannot be delegated to a consultant.

[i] Kotter, J. P. (2012). Leading Change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

[ii] Kouzes, J. M., Posner, B. Z.  (2008). The Leadership Challenge (4th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Org Change is Missing in Health Care Tech

If you are an Organizational Change Management (OCM) professional you must read this.  If it doesn’t make you angry then you need to read it again.

Robert M. Wachter, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and the author of “The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age” wrote an op-ed that appeared on Sunday, March 22, 2015, in the New York Times under the headline “Why Health Care Tech Is Still So Bad.”

As Org Change professionals, we are collectively pressured to provide hard data to prove the value of OCM.  We see project teams rigorously measured and rewarded for meeting scope, budget and schedule without any regard for actual adoption or business impact.  We deal with senior leaders who believe that they will realize 100% of a projected benefit on the day a project is completed.  We know that this is crazy, but can’t seem to do anything about it.

My recommendation: Download this article from the NY Times.  Circulate it among your sponsors.  Talk with them about it.  This is what OCM is all about.

Here is the unedited text of the op-ed:

 LAST year, I saw an ad recruiting physicians to a Phoenix-area hospital. It promoted state-of-the-art operating rooms, dazzling radiology equipment and a lovely suburban location. But only one line was printed in bold: “No E.M.R.”

In today’s digital era, a modern hospital deemed the absence of an electronic medical record system to be a premier selling point.

That hospital is not alone. A 2013 RAND survey of physicians found mixed reactions to electronic health record systems, including widespread dissatisfaction. Many respondents cited poor usability, time-consuming data entry, needless alerts and poor work flows.

If the only negative effect of health care computerization were grumpy doctors, we could muddle through. But there’s more. A friend of mine, a physician in his late 60s, recently described a visit to his primary care doctor. “I had seen him a few years ago and I liked him,” he told me. “But this time was different.” A computer had entered the exam room. “He asks me a question, and as soon as I begin to answer, his head is down in his laptop. Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. He looks up at me to ask another question. As soon as I speak, again it’s tap-tap-tap-tap.”

 “What did you do?” I asked.  “I found another doctor.”

Even in preventing medical mistakes — a central rationale for computerization — technology has let us down. A recent study of more than one million medication errors reported to a national database between 2003 and 2010 found that 6 percent were related to the computerized prescribing system.

At my own hospital, in 2013 we gave a teenager a 39-fold overdose of a common antibiotic. The initial glitch was innocent enough: A doctor failed to recognize that a screen was set on “milligrams per kilogram” rather than just “milligrams.” But the jaw-dropping part of the error involved alerts that were ignored by both physician and pharmacist. The error caused a grand mal seizure that sent the boy to the I.C.U. and nearly killed him.

How could they do such a thing? It’s because providers receive tens of thousands of such alerts each month, a vast majority of them false alarms. In one month, the electronic monitors in our five intensive care units, which track things like heart rate and oxygen level, produced more than 2.5 million alerts. It’s little wonder that health care providers have grown numb to them.

The unanticipated consequences of health information technology are of particular interest today. In the past five years about $30 billion of federal incentive payments have succeeded in rapidly raising the adoption rate of electronic health records. This computerization of health care has been like a car whose spinning tires have finally gained purchase. We were so accustomed to staying still that we were utterly unprepared for that first lurch forward.

Whopping errors and maddening changes in work flow have even led some physicians to argue that we should exhume our three-ring binders and return to a world of pen and paper.

This argument is utterly unpersuasive. Health care, our most information-intensive industry, is plagued by demonstrably spotty quality, millions of errors and backbreaking costs. We will never make fundamental improvements in our system without the thoughtful use of technology. Even today, despite the problems, the evidence shows that care is better and safer with computers than without them.

Moreover, the digitization of health care promises, eventually, to be transformative. Patients who today sit in hospital beds will one day receive telemedicine-enabled care in their homes and workplaces. Big-data techniques will guide the treatment of individual patients, as well as the best ways to organize our systems of care. (Of course, we need to keep such data out of the hands of hackers, a problem that we have clearly not yet licked.) New apps will make it easier for patients to choose the best hospitals and doctors for specific problems — and even help them decide whether they need to see a doctor at all.

Some improvements will come with refinement of the software. Today’s health care technology has that Version 1.0 feel, and it is sure to get better.

But it’s more than the code that needs to improve. In the 1990s, Erik Brynjolfsson, a management professor at M.I.T., described “the productivity paradox” of information technology, the lag between the adoption of technology and the realization of productivity gains. Unleashing the power of computerization depends on two keys, like a safe-deposit box: the technology itself, but also changes in the work force and culture.

In health care, changes in the way we organize our work will most likely be the key to improvement. This means training students and physicians to focus on the patient despite the demands of the computers. It means creating new ways to build teamwork once doctors and nurses are no longer yoked to the nurse’s station by a single paper record. It means federal policies that promote the seamless sharing of data between different systems in different settings.

We also need far better collaboration between academic researchers and software developers to weed out bugs and reimagine how our work can be accomplished in a digital environment.

I interviewed Boeing’s top cockpit designers, who wouldn’t dream of green-lighting a new plane until they had spent thousands of hours watching pilots in simulators and on test flights. This principle of user-centered design is part of aviation’s DNA, yet has been woefully lacking in health care software design.

Our iPhones and their digital brethren have made computerization look easy, which makes our experience with health care technology doubly disappointing. An important step is admitting that there is a problem, toning down the hype, and welcoming thoughtful criticism, rather than branding critics as Luddites.

In my research, I found humility in a surprising place: the headquarters of I.B.M.’s Watson team, the people who built the computer that trounced the “Jeopardy!” champions. I asked the lead engineer of Watson’s health team, Eric Brown, what the equivalent of the “Jeopardy!” victory would be in medicine. I expected him to describe some kind of holographic physician, like the doctor on “Star Trek Voyager,” with Watson serving as the cognitive engine. His answer, however, reflected his deep respect for the unique challenges of health care. “It’ll be when we have a technology that physicians suddenly can’t live without,” he said.

And that was it. Just an essential tool. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Creating a Shared Need: The Threat vs. Opportunity Matrix

Not long after any initiative’s core team has been assembled, it is essential to get that team aligned and to get them thinking about the potential effects of their initiative.  A “best practice” is to have the team collectively work through this tool to find ways to frame the need for change as a threat and opportunity over both the short and long term, for all stakeholders. 

What is it?

Most readers will be familiar with SWOT Analysis.  The concept with the Threat vs. Opportunity Matrix is to put yourself in the shoes of the stakeholders being impacted by your initiative and imagine their perspective.  Framing the need for change as a short-term threat can serve as the proverbial 2×4 to the side of the head that gets attention and creates urgency.  But long-term organizational effort is sustained by opportunity not crisis, so it is necessary to frame the need for change as opportunity as well.   A frequently overlooked benefit of this tool is that it gets the team thinking about potential resistance to the initiative early in the process.

Why do it?

The purpose for using this tool is threefold (See Figure 1)

  1. To enable the team to articulate the need for the change in terms that will resonate with the stakeholders being impacted.
  2. To anticipate the pushback the team may get from those affected by the change, and to begin an adoption risk mitigation plan
  3. To build alignment and consensus among the team leading the initiative
Threat vs Opportunity Matrix

Figure 1 – Threat vs Opportunity Matrix

How do it?

There is no right or wrong way to do this.  The value is in the conversation that the team has and the list that is generated.   It can be done with sticky-notes on a flipchart, on a whiteboard, or at a table with a scribe on a computer.

Before using this tool, pre-work should include a list of stakeholders and the project charter.  It can also be valuable, though not essential, to pull a cross-functional team together to participate in this exercise.  

1.   Working individually, CAP team members list the reasons for the change initiative.

a.       List both the threats of not changing and the opportunities created if the change is successful

b.      Additionally, try to anticipate the resistance by considering the potential pushback from skeptical stakeholders, i.e. the threat if we DO change and/or the opportunity if we don’t change.  This is a first look at potential resistance to the initiative.

2.     Team members then share their perceptions and then debate and discuss similarities and differences.

3.     Team members then collate and sort the reasons into short vs. long-term.

4.    The team should review their list of stakeholders and try to ensure that they have identified reasons that will resonate with all key constituent groups (e.g., manufacturing, marketing, engineering, sales, etc.).

  1. Most reasons for an initiative can be articulated as both a threat and an opportunity.  For example; failure to change will result in job losses, vs. successful change will lead to job growth.  It is useful to retain both versions early in the process.  The team may decide later to portray the need for change one way instead of the other to maximize its effectiveness.
  2. Some teams may struggle articulating the need for change, or to do it for all stakeholders, early in the project.  Therefore, it may be useful to begin this discussion and then revisit it once the vision has been articulated.  It may also drive additional conversations with the project sponsor to clarify the need from the leadership perspective.  Effective teams treat this as a living document and both update it and refer back to it regularly – the team’s understanding of the stakeholder’s perspective will (and should!) evolve over time
  3. A “Best Practice” is to use this tool together with 3-Ds matrix
When do it?

This tool should be used early on in the project, even during the team chartering process.  Though subject to modification throughout the project, this initial statement of need is essential to moving forward with a clear sense of why this change initiative is essential to do at this point in time.

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.

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.