Making space for change

I’ve been thinking about making space for change. When I get overwhelmed, my instinct is to stop doing the most recent thing I took on. But is that really the best choice?

Instead, this time, I took a few minutes and listed my current commitments, ranked them in order of the value I get from them, and was surprised to see the result.

An activity I used to enjoy, and had invested lots of time and money training myself to do well, was at the bottom of the list. The change in ranking happened less because I no longer loved the activity, but that the context in which I had enjoyed it was no longer satisfying me – the group I did it with had lost its inspiration, and none of us, including me, was willing to put the energy into getting it back.

So, instead of giving up the thing I was enjoying today, in a fresh, exciting, inspiring group of people, I decided to put the old activity on the shelf and give it a rest. I might come back to it one day. Or not. And that’s ok.


I’ve been reading and rereading Difficult Conversations by Stone, Patton and Heen. I find it particularly useful because it identifies the thing that has always baffled me about “those” conversations: they’re not about facts and logic. Even though we spend inordinate amounts of teeth-grinding time on “But you said…” and “I don’t remember saying that, but if I did that’s not what I meant”, what happened is just one of three conversations we are really having.

The book tells us there are 3 conversations:
The “What Happened” conversation – what was the intent, who’s to blame and what is the truth
The Feelings conversation – we both have feelings and if we don’t make them explicit in a non-threatening way, they can take over, leaving us overwhelmed and confused.
The Identity conversation – what does this say about me? Am I a good person, am I worthy of love, and am I competent?

They follow on with examples, words to say, and ways to correct common mistakes.

It’s exciting to think that conversations that seemed so obscure and confusing actually were! Have a look.

Swine flu? Learn to work from home

Don’t travel. Don’t get close to people. Stay away from large gatherings.
Whatever this becomes, the effect on the our workplaces and way of working will be severe. If you have children and / or are a knowledge worker, spending your time talking, thinking and working on a computer you must get prepared to work from home. 

Here are some tips:

Prepare a workspace for yourself – quiet, clean, organized. Getting that in place now will help you later.

People who are already comfortable with teleconference, email, social networking, self-management and lack of “face time” will have the easiest time of it. Start now to work with people over the phone, by video conference and by yourself.

Prepare to have kids at home while you work. If public health agencies close schools and daycare, somebody’s going to have to look after the kids.  Plan ways for them to keep busy and out of trouble while you stay productive.  Sharing care with other families will be essential.

Prepare to not have “face time”. If you’re a person who likes to be physically present with others, this will be hard for you.  Even preparing for video conferencing will help, as you will be able to see people’s facial expressions.
Of course, these are emergency adaptations. This may all come to nothing, but in the short term as public health agencies and companies learn how to respond to the situation, there will be decision made that restrict and change ways of life we have come to expect and believe are our rights. The transition to another way of working can be very hard.  Begin to work through the loss of your comfort and move into a new way of working while things are easy.

And depending on how long it lasts, we will all be affected. Basic needs must be met, and if you don’t live on a farm and grow your own food, work may become the last thing to worry about.

20-30 Years Old and Suddenly Sitting at the Boss’s Desk

I was recently interviewed for an article in the Wall Street Journal for the column You at the Boss’s Desk. Here’s the article

I wanted to expand on the topic a bit. For people in their 20’s and 30’s a sudden promotion to a management position can have its joys and challenges. Of course there’s usually a higher salary, perhaps some company perks, and even a corner office. Your friends and family will be expecting you to be feeling thrilled and fulfilled.

What most people won’t understand is the anxiety and even depression that can come with a promotion. You are no longer with your peers, you must get to know your new management peer group, you may be asked to do things you’ve never done before like budgeting, hiring and firing, and you may be feeling like you have to be seen as strong and successful without help, or they will give the job to someone else.

Here are some tips:

When dealing with your old peer group, especially if you have to manage them, say the truth that everyone is thinking anyway. Tell them you know this is a strange situation and you’re hoping they will stay open to talking. Tell them the good news is you know what their job is. Ask them to understand that being the boss requires some objectivity, and that will mean you won’t be as involved in the day to day work as you were. Tell them you’ll miss their company, and that you’ll be demanding their best because you know how good that can be.

With your new management peer group, start getting to know each one over lunch or coffee. They will be important support to you as you build skills in your new position. They can help you with who to talk to, how to navigate company hierarchy, and how to make successful presentations. They can also give you objective feedback and will welcome your openness to learning. And over time, they will become friends, too.

When you have to build new skills, go to the source for the best advice. If you have to put together a budget, find someone in Finance or ask your boss to walk you through the steps. For hiring and firing, connect with the HR department for company policies and even ask someone to tag team with you as you go. The company may have an internal training and development department. Seek them out and take advantage of their services. No one will expect you to know how to do these things, and your boss will welcome your effort to get what you need.

There are two final tips that are really at the bottom of all success.

The first is to ask for help. It seems simple, but is often the hardest thing to do when you think your reputation depends on being seen as smart, capable or in control. When I say “ask for help” I don’t mean get someone else to do your job.  Laziness is different from strategic delegation. What I mean is asking for help with your own performance through feedback, ideas, opinions, information, advice on how to get something done more quickly, asking for mentoring, coaching, or clarification. People who ask for help with good intent are often seen as open and worthy of respect. They create webs of support and trust and encourage others through their own modeling of openness. The act of asking for help may be briefly uncomfortable, but almost always results in more and better connections, skills and ideas, than if you don’t ask. And most people like being able to help.

The second thing is not to let the the sometimes negative emotions of transitions dissuade you from doing what needs to be done. Transitions are times when people leave behind an old way, live through some uncertainty as a new way is being developed, and then begin to behave in the new way. Your transition from your old job to your new job is a transition not just for you but for all the people around you. You bring new ideas and ways of behaving, and those are absolutely critical to the health and success of the company. At the same time, people within the company may behave as if they don’t want the transition to occur.

Sometimes in business we call this reaction to transitions “resistance to change”. My belief is that people aren’t resistant to change unless the new way is obviously detrimental to them or people they care about. Instead, in most cases the “negativity” we see is grieving for the loss of a way of life in which they have invested energy, spirit and passion. They may be losing special relationships – a friend and mentor if you are replacing someone who is retiring or moving on, you as a peer, or the retiring manager as a colleague. They may be losing a successful way of communicating and a shared language of understanding they worked hard to build up. They may just be losing the ideas they committed to and that have served them in the past as you bring and represent new ones. They will grieve those losses, and there is nothing you can do to control or change that process except respect it. They will feel what they need to feel. What you can do is be honest, consistent, and show integrity in all your interactions. Help them believe that there is hope for the future. And ask them to co-create that future with you.

It sometimes seems easier to compromise your ideas to, you think, help someone else feel more comfortable with generational or style differences. I’ve seen many young managers shaking their heads but staying silent in meetings where the same old bad policy was promoted. They were afraid to deal with the reaction to promoting their new ideas. Instead they became passive resistors, doing, but hating, the things they knew could be done better.

Have courage!  The workplace needs the ideas of new people, new managers and employees. Workplace transitions will play out in time, and in the meantime, you need to believe in the ideas that will generate a real, sustainable future for you and your employees. Your ideas are just as valid as those of older, more “experienced” workers. They will come to trust you if you are open, approachable, and trustworthy, or they will leave. In either case, the future demands your commitment and leadership, and your modeling of progressive behaviour. With help and with time you can make a new future.

What if…

Perspective flip: think of people you avoid; now imagine they are fundamental to you in some way. What would you do differently with them?

What if the boss you gossip about at lunch and make fun of had some secret knowledge that could help you get the thing you desire the most?

What if the young, shy intern with his feet up on the desk eating Doritos has an idea that will leave the competition in the dust?

What if that woman in the cubicle down the hall with the loud, annoying telephone voice has 10 years experience in exactly what you’re under pressure to get done right now?

What if you are staying away from the very people who you need?

How will you find out?

Quitting to succeed

Seth Godin, author of Tribes and Small is the New Big, has another book out – The Dip.

An important and audacious premise of The Dip is that quitting is sometimes the very best action to take to get what we want. Godin says, “we fail when we get distracted by tasks we don’t have the guts to quit”.

I see this in business often – the distraction of failing work. The project that started off as a good idea and has become a death march but no one will pull the plug because $2M has already been spent.  The job you stay in because you can’t imagine starting again despite knowing in your heart that it will only get worse and suck every last ounce of energy out of you for the rest of your career.

It happens at home too: The marriage that is being held together “for the kids”, thought the kids are miserable watching their parents slowly give up living. The children’s sports that parents keep the kids in even when the kids no longer love it, just because “we’ve invested so much already”.

Godin says in some situations no amount of work will lead to success, or there may be a light at the end of the tunnel but you’ll be almost out of oxygen by the time you get there.  The trick is to know when you’re at the decision point, when it’s time to throw one more log on the fire or move on to a better place.

His premise clicks nicely with reading I’ve been doing on Strengths, particularly the work of Marcus Buckingham in Now Discover Your Strengths. The premise there is to replace the painful and limiting improvement of weaknesses to a subjective level of “normal”, with the recognition of and improvement of natural Strengths. In the Improving Weaknesses model, you start at D or C- and get to B.  In the Strengths model you start at B+ and get to A++ with significantly more fun and less wasted energy.

Both approaches nicely work for clients in Adaptive Coaching – notice where you are in your journey and connect with others about the potential for success and how your strengths will help you get there.  Then take action to either quit and start something new based on your strengths and current resources, or keep going.  Based on the result, learn, adapt and start again.

10 things businesspeople can do to adapt in the new economy

It’s rough out there.  Customers have lost their discretionary income.  Some have no income at all.  If you do business to business  then you know budgets have been severely cut back.  It seems like nobody’s buying.  So what do you do while things are slow.

10.  This economic situation is temporary and if you can wait it out, times will be good again.  But the world will be different and you can be ready for that.  While things are slow, use the time to reevaluate your business strategy.  Who are your customers and what do they really want?   Now’s the time to go visit or call or email them and ask!  You might be the only business person who does, making you stand out.

9. Catch up on your reading, and not just books but online resources as well. Often the most relevant information is available on the web first.  Set up news alerts and RSS feeds for the area you are in.  Keep tabs on the new thinkers, not just the old faithfuls – they might end up redefining your world. 

8. Make some new friends.  If you’re on Twitter, try going to a TweetUp, or Jelly. Try some new activities in your business or home community.  Ask someone new out for a coffee, someone in a different business entirely.  Ask them about their business and interests.  Be curious and open and you may synthesize ideas into something no one else in your industry has thought of.

7. Start a conversation.  Start a blog, join Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.  Sharing your knowledge for free and being transparent about your thoughts and actions is the new business model.  It gives people a sample of the kind of thinker and communicator you are and creates trust and connection.

6. Learn something new, go to a class, try a webinar.  The possibilities are enormous for learning new skills and methods of doing what you do.  Also, the connections you make at learning events can open doors to new ideas and customers.  While you’re learning, take the opportunity to connect with others in the audience or class and find out what kind of work they do, how they do it and genuinely seek to keep in touch.  This isn’t about selling something – it’s about creating authentic connections.

5. Help someone else.  Mentor a young business person.  Provide free speaking engagements to chambers of commerce, Rotary clubs, colleges and universities and other business groups.  Write articles.  Volunteer for organizations that provide services you are passionate about and get to know the people involved.  

4. Focus on your strengths. Here’s where you start looking inward and perhaps start making some changes.  Start by understanding your values and strengths.   Take the VIA signature strengths test  to identify the strengths that come most easily to you.   Then work on projects that align with your values and use those strengths.  Try some of the other questionnaires on the site as well – learn what makes you tick.

3. Check your intent.  When you connect with customers do you intend to create a relationship or simply to sell a product and move on?  Do you intend to adapt to changing circumstances, even if you don’t yet know how, or are you content to join the grim chorus calling for the end of the world?  Be honest.  People can smell a snooker a mile away.  And remember that optimism is contagious and your customers will sense your good intent, strength, optimism and belief in your business, and be attracted to you.

2. Think and act positively.  An accurately positive attitude, including confidence and optimism about things you can control, is attractive.  People want to be surrounded by, and support, positive influences, especially now.  Seek out others who have the same approach and who will support you looking for opportunities to make realistic and achievable changes.  Lead the change you want to see.

1.  Ask for help.  People love to help, both professionally and personally.  In addition to the help you receive, you can make some great connections by asking experts to help you.  And one day you will be able to help in return.