Reflections on a 20+ year career in change work.
Written by Roxanne Brown.
When I first met you my life at work was in turmoil. At the office, people standing feet away from each other wouldn’t acknowledge each other. It was like they didn’t know how so they just filtered each other out. People decided to keep to their friends now that our company had bought a long-standing competitor. There were new people. Worse than that, the new people were the enemy. They were our competition that for years we battled against for clients, awards, big business. We knew them by name and by sight and now they were in our office. They were supposed to be one of us now. How strange it all felt. The new people acted like they were in a foreign land, looking stunned, trying to adjust. It was beyond awkward. I retreated to my office to escape the pressure of those interactions. The rooms and hallways were dense with emotion pressing everything downward. Lots of slumped shoulders, lots of gazes to the floor, just a weight. A merger announced one day and with that all of the joy was sucked right out of our team.
Then I met you. It was in a class I signed up for at school. Change Leadership, it was called. That’s where I discovered you. I had no idea what I was in for. Every week a little more was revealed about you. Each lecture, each reading. The implications of you were incredible to me. It meant people didn’t need to be the victims of inevitable changes that come to the workplace. It meant they could be guided through it, even choose how they wanted to experience it. THEY could be given control of their experience. YOU could do that for them. Incredible.
And, that wasn’t all of it. It was better for the company they worked for too! People adjusted faster, were less distracted, were more productive and resilient. Fascinating! When I finally grasped all that you had to offer I remember thinking I had discovered something precious. Something everyone should know about. Why wasn’t everyone doing this, I thought? That was you, CM.
Bit by bit what was happening at work became clearer. Now I could be compassionate and say what needed to be said. Put words to what was happening. I could try to help us make sense of the transition. You helped me try. I was hooked.
Seventeen years later my commitment to you is impenetrable. Yes, there was a time in the early days when I wondered if this was really a career. Many said I was crazy to pursue you. You won’t last, they said. They said you were too this or not enough that. But I studied you, I persisted, I experimented. I insisted on doing the work and I insisted you were real. I was right.
Some have quipped that it’s too bad the word “Management” is in your name. It’s true, it’s not a dynamic word and does have some negative associations but so does “Change”, frankly. I’ve heard all of the criticisms and, oddly, I feel immune to them now. I’ve earned my point of view. I know the feeling when you’re present and when you’re not present. That’s all the resolve I need.
I could have pursued many other professions. Before you I certainly did. But once you came into my life I knew you were for me. I think like you. I feel empathy through you. I’ve served countless people through difficult situations with dignity and respect because of you. I’ve also helped people discover and create the culture they longed for because of you.
You have brought my life joy and meaning in ways I hadn’t expected. To see the sudden light in people when they realize all you have to offer and that they can do it too. It’s incredibly satisfying. Over and over I’ve witnessed it. It doesn’t get old.
And, your beauty is always evolving. It’s a delight to discover how you adapt to new scenarios and ways of work. Learning is the essence of you.
Not a clear career path? Maybe so. But you have given me a career I feel deeply aligned to and that makes me brave every day, in service to others and for something much bigger than me. Clear or not, for that you are absolutely worth it.
With love and gratitude,
My Inspiration: Last week TJ Rinoski gave a presentation to a group at Gather about the launch of his new magazine Skinny Dipper that's a long-time collaboration / labor-of-love project, years in the making. It's a work of art. Each issue is created with the intention that it be kept, even displayed. During his presentation he talked about it being a love letter to the variety of media art they love. Hmmm..., I thought (made a note). The way he talks about it is inspiring and endearing. Clearly he and his friends care a lot about this thing. The big launch was yesterday. We ordered our copy today.
How to influence workplace politics for better outcomes.
Written by Roxanne Brown.
There’s tension in the room. An executive asks a question and the guest speaker answers. But then the speaker clears his throat. Or maybe he glanced to the side. Whatever he did, it might have been a sign of weakness, definitely a sign to dig deeper. The rest jumped in with the inevitable attack. This was now the typical behavior, like a bad habit they had all formed together. They were looking for someone to blame or some elusive answer to solve everything that had gone wrong over the last six months.
The woman in charge of this weekly executive check-in intervened. She took over the conversation so they would focus on her and not the guest. Partially to protect the speaker, but mostly to get their focus on track. “Aren’t we here to make decisions?,” she thought. To her, the purpose of the conversation seemed pretty straightforward. But it never was. There was always danger and it was palpable. Unnamed and unclaimed but real.
People remember moments like this because they are emotionally charged with fear. These moments stand out. Everyone is in hyper-self-protection mode. It’s a time to be clever. Careful. The possibility of changing the behavior of a group like this seems impossible. But there are other options. Just blow up the whole group and start over, that’s one solution. But that’s often just a fantasy. You’re stuck with who you’re stuck with. You could just live with it and wait for the pain to end one day. You could abandon the whole situation by finding another place to go for yourself. There are options.
Can anything be done to move this group to a more constructive place?
What if you reimagined the whole thing? What if.....you suspended reality for a moment and imagined how you’d like this group to be? How would it feel in those meetings ideally?
Having trouble with that thought? Understandable. Once you have a fear-charged memory conjured up it’s hard to replace it with something ideal.
Try this...take a breath and give yourself a moment to clear out that fear. Now...think about the best experience you’ve ever had leading a meeting or leading a team or working with a group of senior executives. What was that like? Okay, time to write some things down -- write down all of the adjectives that come to mind. Just keep writing and writing until you run out of adjectives.
Look at what you’ve written then ask yourself, what made it that way? What was happening? Write down what was happening. Again, keep writing and writing.
Then ask yourself, what did you accomplish because of all that was happening? Write down what you accomplished.
Now, sit back and look at it all. You have this great experience inside you. You know what’s possible because you’ve experienced it. It’s your story, not someone else’s.
Now that you're looking at what you’ve written and remember what's possible, ask yourself, what one or two things would I like to apply to the emotionally charged, fearful situation? What would it be like if that could happen? Picture it in your mind.
With that in mind, write down what success would look like for the current situation by completing this sentence, “I’ll know we’re truly working together toward successful outcomes when…” Write down as many thoughts come to mind for completing the sentence. This is what success looks like for you!
Now comes the hard part: The question to ask next is, what must be true to make this happen? This is when it’s time to be really honest with yourself. What do you need to change to make this happen? How do you need to be different? How do you need to think differently about all of the players? And, who’s help is critical to make this vision happen?
There are people to enlist to help you change what’s happening. More often than not you’ll find others want that change too. If you are the leader of the group, you have a legitimate position to work from and others will be happy for your willingness to lead the group to a different place. If you aren’t the leader you can still have an influence. Just your presence, how you think about all of the players and holding your vision in your mind can have a positive effect.
There’s much more to do, but this is a solid start. A shift in your thinking alone will cause a shift in others. Things might start happening that surprise you. Your best bet is to be open to surprises. Look for them. Step in when they happen. Hold that vision while being open. Involve others. Pay attention to the negative but filter out what’s not constructive.
We know that work is what you make of it. Of course, it’s hard to remember that when you’re in the middle of the day, week, year packed with work responsibilities. The question is, now that you remember what’s possible, what are you going to do?
My Inspiration: Back in 2012 Daryl Conner interviewed lecturer and writer Peter Meyer. It was a fascinating discussion about the difference between using fear or attraction to bring about change. He also shared a practical, step-by-step approach to using attraction. I've been applying some form of his approach ever since. Thanks, Peter! Thanks, Daryl!
You can use this summary to help you with situations like these.