The More Things Change
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 0:11
Welcome to "Your Authentic Path to Powerful Leadership" with Marsha Clark. Join us on this journey where we uncover what it takes to be a powerful woman leader. Well, Marsha, I can't believe we're almost through with 2023. What, where's my life going?
Marsha Clark 0:28
Well, I know. They say the older you get the faster it goes and I'm a firm believer in that. So it's been a, you know, a bit of a blur in many ways, and so many great milestones and moments this year and we're going to highlight those in next week's episode. But I am struck with how quickly we're moving through the content of the upcoming book and I just wanted to slow it all down a little bit, to savor the moment a little more.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 0:53
I know. I'm reminded of Renee's great points from last week about thriving in the moment, how important it is to be fully present, which is really tough during holiday time. And I guess that's why this week's episode is on change and it's very timely and relevant.
Marsha Clark 1:10
You know, Wendi, I agree with that. And timing couldn't be better. And today's title is, "The More Things Change... The More People Stay the Same". And we specifically wanted to save it for this week since we know people are in the midst of holiday celebrations and looking forward toward 2024 perhaps with a mixture of both hope and fear. There's a lot going on in this world and the transition from one year to the next is usually the prime time that we stop to reflect and consider possible changes looking ahead. So listeners, our offer to you is that this is a time of reflection and potentially some recalibration for you. All right, let's
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 1:54
All right. Let's dive in. I love how you start this chapter in your book "Expanding Your Power" with the old adage, the only thing constant is change. And you share a story about some of your original experiences on presenting on the topic of change.
Marsha Clark 2:12
Yeah, I you know worked in and around what often gets referred to as change management now for quite honestly most of my adult professional work life. So about 30 plus years ago, around 1990, I was still at EDS at the time and we were exploring leadership transformation and change management at the time. And I was what I would describe as a bit of a speaking tour, going around the company talking about change. And as I was preparing for one particular presentation that I was doing, I found this great headline that read, 'technological change is happening faster than ever'. And of course, EDS was a technology company so I thought it was perfect for us. And I was ready to cite the source and looking forward to that, and it turned out to be the London Times in the early 1800's.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 3:07
Wait a minute. What? The early 1800's?
Marsha Clark 3:10
Yes and this would have been around 1990. So just get that. So technological change is happening faster than ever before, early 1800's. And I think that simply reinforces for us that change is always happening, always has been and always will be. And it's happening at home, at work, in our local communities and all over the world. And, as I stop to think about this idea of change, or this topic of change, I've been involved in probably about 1,000 initiatives as a leader of whatever kind of change. Sometimes it was a participant working on the change. Sometimes I was a recipient to whom the change was, you know, was happening for and certainly now as a coach and a consulting supporting others through change. And my fascination with change over the years has been on the human factor of change, or the people side of change, if it's happening all the time. But the part that intrigues me most is how people react and respond to change, and how as leaders, we need to support and guide those around us through change in a way that's healthy, productive and sustainable.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 4:22
In the book, you share a definition of change from the American Heritage Dictionary that says "change means to cause to be different, to alter". And that's a pretty broad definition so I can see how dialing that topic down to focus on the impact of change and our responsibility as leaders is at least a more manageable or realistic goal in the book, in your work and here today.
Marsha Clark 4:52
Yeah, that's that's absolutely right. And even with the narrowing of our focus, it's still a huge topic. So for today we're going to look at some of the key concepts around leading people through change. And we're also going to offer a few tips for enhancing productivity through a typical change process. So one thing I'd like to invite our listeners to do is to take a moment to personalize this idea of change so especially from a leadership perspective. So think about your own experience with change initiatives and whether you're leading it or being swept up in it or by it. And so my first reflection question for our listeners is "What was the best change initiative that you have experienced?" And then not only identifying that, but what made it the best? And then on an add on to that is what was the worst change initiative that you've experienced and what made it the worst? And so I encourage you to pause this episode of this show and really think about your own experiences, about what made those change initiatives positive or negative. And I'm again reminded of the quote from Susie Vaughn a few weeks ago when we were doing our "Real TOOT" episode where she talks about the power of reflection for deep learning. We all have our own stories of change, we've experienced that change, especially when the changes didn't necessarily turn out as we plan. And those stories fundamentally affect how we approach new changes and they help to set our change thermostat, if you will.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 6:33
This is making me think of the quote by King Whitney, Jr. that you used to open up this chapter. And I'm going to read the quote really quickly. "Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it's threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it's encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it's inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better." I love that.
Marsha Clark 7:08
I do too. And you know, and it prompts me to check in with how I'm approaching any particular change. Am I in the feeling fearful, the feeling hopeful, or the feeling confident? And am I noticing that my approach to change is a pattern or default mode where every change I'm fearful or every change I'm hopeful. And then I get curious about what might be driving that response. And even that kind of exploration opens up more space, if you will, for different and ideally more effective responses.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 7:39
There's so much in this chapter that we could probably spend at least two full episodes on it. But for today I really want to touch on some key lessons for our listeners who are trying to lead teams through change. Many of us are already familiar with the change curve, which we're going to touch on lightly. But one of the concepts you offer that I hadn't heard of before was this idea of three guarantees of change. And so please share those with everyone.
Marsha Clark 8:09
And here's what I say in the book and I'm just going to share that with our listeners: "There's often a great deal of planning that goes into change initiatives. And no matter how thoughtful, and comprehensive you're planning, there will always be glitches and surprises along the way. And so that's one of the reasons I got involved in studying change and change methodologies in the first place. We were looking for some kind of foolproof approach where we could mitigate surprises. And what we discovered time and time again is that there's no magic formula for the what we might want or call the pain free or perfected change initiatives. And so in the end we realize three fundamental truths are what I'm calling guarantees. And by acknowledging these, it helped us manage the inevitable bumps in the road as we navigated these change.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 9:04
Okay, so that explains the first guarantee you share which is no matter how well planned, change will not be trouble free.
Marsha Clark 9:13
That's right. Guarantee number one, you can't know the granular details inherent in every change initiative. You can expect quote unquote, "trouble" and you can share with your team that they too can expect some trouble. And the acknowledgement of this to your team actually builds trust because knowing that there will be trouble and that you told them to expect trouble, there's alignment there and they're less likely to think you're just painting this rosy picture to convince them that the change is going to be good.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 9:45
And the second guarantee is?
Marsha Clark 9:48
That change will not go away, it will only go faster. And and when I think of my early experiences of change, it was almost like I was holding my breath to get through the change and then I could breathe a sigh of relief. And then what I learned, I could barely finish one change before jumping into the next change and often, more often than not, I was navigating several changes at one time. So I'm betting our listeners can completely relate to that feeling.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 10:18
Then the third guarantee that you share is each of us is responsible for making change successful for ourselves, our team and our organization.
Marsha Clark 10:29
Yeah and I think this is a really important message and one that I stress often with program participants and coaching clients. No one person, no one executive or group of senior leaders alone can make the change happen successfully. So again, we go back to we're all in this together. So as an individual, each one of us is going to choose how we're going to think about the change and then how we're going to engage in that change. So you can fear the change, you can complain about it, some I've known to even try to sabotage the change, but chances are that the change is going to keep moving forward. So in my experience it's better to learn all you can and get engaged. And I would offer to our listeners that you have more influence in how the changes can happen if you have an engaged mindset rather than a resistor's mindset.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 11:23
I know we're going to spend a few minutes on the topic of resistance to change in a couple of minutes. But before we go there, you include some predictable dynamics of change that our leaders can be on the lookout for. And I found the model you share, which you call the productivity curve, really fascinating because even though I know I've experienced it viscerally, it was powerful to see it laid out so clearly. So can we start with a quick exploration of the dynamics of that, of change?
Marsha Clark 11:54
Yes, absolutely. I want to reinforce your point that we have all experienced these dynamics but we didn't necessarily have the awareness of you know what was happening. And that made it hard to predict and to manage. So the predictable dynamics of change are one, no matter how exciting the change, expect a sense of loss. Number two, no matter how competent people are, expect a sense of confusion and ambiguity. And three, expect that confusion and ambiguity to lead to a deterioration of trust and increased self preservation behavior.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 12:35
Okay, I'm really intrigued by the first one you shared. No matter how exciting the change, expect a sense of loss. Why is that?
Marsha Clark 12:44
Yeah, so depending on the change, it's a loss of familiarity, right? So I was familiar with the process we had in place, with the people I've worked with, with the technology. And another aspect of the loss is a loss in former levels of expertise or ease which leads us to the second dynamic and where it comes into play. I can have a team of superstars but if we change our software or our processes or any other number of things we could change, we're going to have a different productivity because there's a natural learning curve.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 13:19
That makes total sense.
Marsha Clark 13:21
So it's hard on people who were cruising or maybe even on autopilot with the old way, or the way we've always done it, to shift into a learner mode. Intellectually, they may understand that no one expects them to be experts on day one, with this new way. But that doesn't calm the limbic system in our brains when struggling and growing fearful in the face of one's decreased competence.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 13:49
So that explains why there's a deterioration of trust and an increase in self preservation behaviors. I mean, so it's all clicking now. Of course, people shift into that mode.
Marsha Clark 14:01
Yeah, exactly and this is where that human factor of change kicks in. When I lose my ability to predict behavior and responses my trust goes down. And when you're in a state of uncertainty or unpredictability you may also be experiencing a feeling and being out of control of the situation. And so you're you may be calling on those coping mechanisms to help you regain that sense of control. And you or your team members may strongly defend the more familiar way, the old way, and it can often be perceived as resistance to the change. And to be clear, you may or may not be conscious that you're doing this. I
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 14:41
I can see now how these predictable dynamics of change play right into the productivity curve model you share in the book. And that model you show reflects data compiled from the U.S. Department of Labor which estimates an average loss of four and a half hours of productivity during times of change.
Marsha Clark 14:43
That's right, and that's four and a half hours a day. So the distractions that underlie this loss of productivity are many. So you can spend unproductive time commiserating with your colleagues, right, woe is us. You can spend time looking for another job, or maybe you come in late more often or even miss work altogether. But that's all the things that contribute to this loss of productivity.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 15:30
The productivity curve model itself is a typical two axes type of image with the vertical axes measuring performance and the horizontal axis, we're measuring time, right?
Marsha Clark 15:44
That's right. So in the graphic, productivity or performance is moving along at some consistent level. And then a change is introduced to the team or the organization and almost immediately productivity starts to decline for all those reasons I cited a moment ago. And shortly after the change is introduced, we'll not only see the reduction in productivity, but also a decrease in employee morale along with a possible increase in unwanted resignations. And over time, along this horizontal axis, you're going to hope to lead your team to the change initiative where it eventually results in greater productivity. And that's one of the oft cited, often cited objectives of most change initiatives is that it's going to help us be more productive.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 16:39
You know, I find this model so comforting as a leader, just knowing there is an inevitable decline of performance or productivity.
Marsha Clark 16:47
Yeah, it's comforting. I agree. Yes. And I think this is a really important message as you lead your team through change. It's your responsibility to manage the depth of that productivity decline in the productivity curve and then also the duration of how long people are going to stay in that unproductive state. So in other words, how low will productivity drop and how long will your team languish in this low productivity place?
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 17:20
That's fair. I can't use this as an excuse, but I can be prepared for it because people are people and I can work out a plan for managing that process.
Marsha Clark 17:31
That's right. It's an explanation of what's happening, but it's not an excuse.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 17:36
Okay, so another really helpful framework that you share is something you developed that you refer to as the reactions to change. I found these to not only be completely true but really helpful as I think about where people fall on a spectrum from 'totally on board to no way' in terms of their readiness to accept change.
Marsha Clark 17:58
We call this tool the leadership readiness tool. And you just literally described the two ends of that spectrum, if you will. And I discovered after about 200 plus change initiatives over the years that people really did fall along a spectrum when it came to their readiness and their reactions. So this continuum I'm talking about, we see people respond in the following ways: I'm on board. This is one spot, one end of the continuum. The second point is: I'll be politically correct. The third is: I have issues and questions. The next is: I'm trying to. . . fill in the blank. And the other end of the continuum is: no way.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 18:46
Some of these feel a little more obvious than others. So will you share a little bit about what makes each response unique and then what we as leaders can do with the people at each stop, if you will.
Marsha Clark 19:01
Yes. So we'll start with their with our "I'm on board", those team members, and they can be peers, colleagues, stakeholders of various sorts. So these are the people who are supportive of the change initiative. They see the value of the change, and they're ready to go. As you think about you know who your change agents or influencers might be, these team members will likely fit that profile. And your strategy for engaging them might be to assign them roles that give them an opportunity to highlight their support of the change and influence their peers. And, you know, remembering that if the boss says something is good, that's one thing. If a peer or colleague also says it's good, it carries some extra weight because the peer is you know, again, quote unquote, "one of us".
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 19:49
I love the idea of engaging them as influencers. Okay, so next we have the 'I'll be politically correct" group. What's going on there?
Marsha Clark 20:00
Yeah, so this reflects the person who smiles and nods in the meetings, right, when the change is being discussed. And they may even learn all the new lingo or the buzzwords or the acronyms relating to the change. And by all accounts, you would interpret their behavior and language is supportive of the change. But then, you hear about several scenarios where they're speaking negatively about the change to others. And the way I would describe it, in short, is one smiles to the leaders face and undermines the change behind the leaders back.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 20:34
Ah, so some serious passive aggressiveness going on here, and also two facedness.
Marsha Clark 20:39
Yes, two facedness and passive aggressiveness, you're exactly right. That passive aggressive behavior, just for our listeners benefit, it's a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them. And so your strategy for engaging this person is to let them know that you see the disconnect between what they're saying to you and what they're saying to others. And so you want to be clear with them about how you see the impact of their behavior and you let them know that everyone's accountable for making the change successful back to an earlier point we made, and remember, our listeners in a general way, there's no accountability without consequences. So you want to probe to understand their concerns, to help them address those concerns, and then periodically check with them to help them stay on track.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 21:30
Okay, so engage directly but from a perspective of trying to understand what's driving the behavior.
Marsha Clark 21:37
That's right. You know, for people who've been studying leadership a long time, Stephen Covey, Covey 101. Seek first to understand.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 21:45
Ah, yes, a classic. I bet that also applies, I think, to this third reaction along the spectrum, doesn't it?
Marsha Clark 21:52
Yeah, it does. And the third stop is, along this spectrum of reactions, is "I have issues and questions". So at either a conscious level, which means they're willfully resisting change, or at an unconscious level, where they may just be a lower risk person and they need more certainty, you know, kind of level, then they in fact are resisting the change. And your strategy for engaging this person is to listen to their issues and questions, address those that you can (the issues) and answer the questions if you truly have the answers and be transparent with them that you, as well as the organization, don't have all the answers. And, don't make things up to make them feel better. That's the key part of this message. And let them know where you are in the process. And if possible, when you think you will have the answer to whatever question they may be asking. And let them know that you need them to keep moving forward in order for us to secure some of those answers. And then check with them periodically and keep them informed and up to date. And for your benefit, take their issues and questions seriously. They may know things you don't know and they can help you avoid some of the unknowns related to the change.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 23:11
And that's a really good point. Don't just assume that their resistance or concern is unfounded. They may see things, those problems with the change that you don't and I mean, that's great advice. Okay. So then we move to the fourth group, those people who respond with "I'm trying." What's going on there?
Marsha Clark 23:32
Yeah, so there are several variations on this one. Maybe the person has never been through a major change initiative and simply doesn't know what to do. Maybe they've started off in a strong supportive way and now they're not sure of next steps. So I often try to give a visual for this one. So imagine that you're a team, and I'm gonna use America as a reference point here, traveling from the west to the east trying to get to New York City. So some people start out in Sydney, Australia. Still other people start out in Honolulu, Hawaii, and still others from Los Angeles, California. Well, you can travel a whole lot of miles and still be a long way from New York City. Think about the distance from Sydney to even L.A. and you've still got to go across country to get to New York City. So the big question for you as their leader of this "I have questions and issues" is to determine how much time, how much energy and how many resources you're willing to commit to get them fully on board. You know, options - can you assign them a change partner? Can you meet with them more frequently? Do you need to move them to a different role? And there's so many variables attached to answering this question such as are change partners even available? Can you afford to spend more time with them and still fulfill your role as a change leader? Is there someone who would be more effective and are they available? And you know, there are no magic answers. And I hope these questions and even as we talk about it are valuable in helping you determine the most effective strategy for your change initiative.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 25:17
These are great suggestions. And even the reminder that people are starting from very different places when the changes are announced. All right, so finally, we get to our final group, the "no way" crowd. What are we going to do here?
Marsha Clark 25:33
So this is the person or perhaps even a group that declares loudly in a very public way that this change will not work and they are not going to support it. And I would even offer to our listeners on this one, this category is maybe one of the easiest to work your way through. You know where they stand, you know they're not doing the passive aggressive politically correct thing, they're not 'I need answers to my questions and I'm trying' kind of thing. But you don't have to guess about this group. So your strategy for engaging them is to meet with them, acknowledging their declaration of non support of the change. You make sure they have all the facts and the business reason or reasons for making the change. You ask them if anything could change their mind to support the change because if there are legitimate concerns, you might want to do some homework to address those. And if their concerns are more about fears or concern of what the changes mean to them personally, you want to address those as well. And if there's nothing that will get them on board, you're really now at a very tough crossroads as a leader. If you leave them in place and they continue to speak negatively of the change, you can set an expectation of them to stop speaking negatively. And I mean, it's just that simple. And if they continue their negative talk, it will be noted on their performance review, which is a consequence because the goal here is to let them know that their negative comments can have a negative impact on team morale and can slow the change process down, causing more anxiety for everyone. So as we have said in many episodes in many ways, be clear about your expectations. And if the persons here or groups here are more extreme in their behaviors by not completing assignments or preventing others from completing their assignments, your role as a leader becomes very clear that in fact, they're being insubordinate and they're not fulfilling their job responsibilities. You talk to them, you clarify your expectations, and you let them know the consequences of not completing their assignments, up to an including termination. And you know, this may sound harsh, and as a leader it's your responsibility to lead your team through this change initiative not catering or acquiescing to one person's resistance, verbal resistance.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 28:08
Exactly, exactly. That's such an important point to make, Marsha. I mean, we're back to that productivity curve you talked about earlier. It's my responsibility as the leader to make sure that the team, including this naysayer, isn't stuck at the bottom of that curve churning in negativity or fear or whatever's going on and elongating the time spent at the bottom.
Marsha Clark 28:34
That's right. And the longer you let someone continue their 'no way' behaviors, the more you're contributing to the problem. And so think about it as this person is no longer a good fit for where this team, this department, this organization is headed. And so in my head and in my heart that makes it easier for me to make those kind of hard decisions. And also remember that as the leader, others are watching you to see what you're going to do. And if you do nothing, you may be sending the unintended message that everybody can adopt that negative or no way approach. And that can be a disaster and certainly not a leadership behavior.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 29:16
And then another important point that you make in the book about the spectrum or continuum of change readiness is that it's dynamic in that people's responses to certain changes may be different depending on the change. So you can't just bucket somebody in this person is always a naysayer, this person is always the "Hey, yeah, let's take the hill now."
Marsha Clark 29:41
Yeah, right. That's a great point and you know your team members can and will fall into different categories based on the different change initiatives you may be leading and one person could be 'I'm on board' on change initiative ABC. They could be 'I have issues and questions' on change initiative XYZ and it's as if you know leading change isn't hard enough, this is yet another layer of complexity. And the framework that we share is intended to give our listeners some language on where each team member may be on any given change as well as some strategies for engaging them more fully in that change initiative.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 30:19
Well, Marsha, this wouldn't be a discussion on change if we didn't talk about stages of resistance. And one thing I appreciate about the model you share is that it offers a different perspective on the stages and some very different suggestions or strategies for each stage.
Marsha Clark 30:37
Yeah, thank you, Wendi. And I found that these stages and strategies are not only reflective of the changes that I've led and experienced over my career, but still line up with what my clients are seeing on a daily basis today.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 30:51
Okay, so this model you use has four stages of resistance, and they are betrayal, denial, identity crisis, and search for solutions. So let's unpack these stages, and then look at some strategies we can use to manage them.
Marsha Clark 31:09
Great. So that first stage of betrayal, or at least it's a perceived portrayal. So you or your organization announce a change initiative and by and large lots of employees feel betrayed, they feel shocked, they're even angry and the organization is (basically they're feeling or their story is) upsetting my familiar world. And maybe your organizational structure's changing and you're getting a new boss. Maybe your job is being outsourced or sent offshore and you don't know even know if you're going to have a job. Maybe your company's being acquired or going public or going private and suddenly you have new owners. So the list goes on and on regarding the many kinds of changes. And for many of us we feel this sense of betrayal and the uncertainty of it all can be overwhelming.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 32:01
So we shift from betrayal to denial, which I think most people are familiar with in many popular change curve models.
Marsha Clark 32:10
Yeah, it's a frequent early stop in most change models. And in the denial stage you may convince yourself that the change really isn't going to happen. You may even mount a business case for why the announced change is a bad idea. And then I've heard phrases like 'this too shall pass', or 'if we put up enough resistance they will change their minds', or 'this will never work', or 'this is just another flavor of the month change'. So these are all related to our denial and even disbelief that this is happening. And again, the productivity continues to decline.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 32:46
And you know, some people are guilty of hanging out there, just hoping that the change is just a fad. This third stage is one that I'm fascinated by (the one you're going to talk about next) because we don't usually see it in change models.
Marsha Clark 33:01
Yeah, that's part of why I identify it here, so we don't see it labeled but we definitely see the behaviors. And so this third stage called Identity Crisis, and at this point, typically, productivity has now hit the bottom, right, at the curve. And as I think about this stage, it comes down to whether or not you believe you can do your new work in a new way. And maybe it's a new technology system, new machinery, new process, or something's been automated that you used to do manually. And the struggle is real. And until you gain an understanding of the new way, you're going to lack confidence in your ability to fulfill your role and responsibilities. And of course, all kinds of fear follow that line of thinking. And this stage is all about the duration of the productivity curve. So the sooner you retrain or reskill your team members the shorter the duration of the loss of productivity. And it's also critical that change leaders provide as much clarity as possible as soon as possible on new and change roles and responsibilities so that you and your team members can begin to regain productivity and achieve the objectives identified to justify the change in the first place. And that really leads us to the last stage. But Wendi, before we go there, I think this not retraining and reskilling employees and not taking into account their concerns and questions is one of the most critical moments with the greatest opportunity for failure. Part of it, 'We've run out of money, we've run out of time. Well the new technology is in. They'll figure it out'. And the loss of productivity during that time is just staggering. That's a good word - staggering.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 34:59
Yes. Okay, so the last stage is the 'search for solutions' phase. Right? Okay.
Marsha Clark 35:06
Yeah. So at this point we've been wallowing down here in the identity crisis. And once we've gotten to that clarity of roles, responsibilities, reskilling, retraining and so on, the search for solution is when resistance is starting to wane. And so you and your team are gaining greater confidence in this new way of working. And as a leader, be on the lookout for when you see confidence and productivity rising. Let your team know that you see that, you recognize it, you appreciate it and celebrate that progress.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 35:43
You know, Marsha, you offer so many helpful strategies for each of these stages of resistance. So it's hard to choose just a few highlights from each. So here's the challenge for you, Marsha. What strategies can you share today knowing that our listeners will eventually be able to access them when your book comes available?
Marsha Clark 36:04
Yeah, I'm gonna give a lot and there's still not all of them. So I'll do my best. So some strategies for leaders when team members are in the betrayal stage: One is to get everything out in the open, share as much information as you possibly can and be as transparent as you can. That's number one. The second is be realistic with promises. And I can't stress this enough. Don't make things up and don't make promises you can't keep. The third is be alert because a reaction from your team is coming. And depending on the kind of change, the magnitude of the change, how the change might affect your team and what problem the change is trying to solve, your team may react in a variety of ways. Maybe they're going to be happy and they'll be that 'I'm on board' person. Maybe they'll be angry and they'll be that 'no way' person. Be ready for any and all of them and listen to their concerns, answer the questions that you can and make note of the questions you can't answer and follow up with the team member once you secure that answer. And then point number four is to be patient with team members, with the management team and any other stakeholder groups. And I'm a strong believer that most executives I know we're not trying to destroy the organization. And I believe that the vast majority of people are trying to do the right thing. So during change there's lots of unknowns and therefore uncertainties but give yourself and others grace as you work through these issues, challenges and questions. And then point number five is be non defensive. You do not need to apologize or defend the change initiative. Now that said, at the same time make sure you know the basis for making the change. And, you know, quote, unquote, "because the CEO said so" when asked why you're making this change is not an acceptable response nor is it a leadership response. So figure out what those business reasons are and be informed and share that information. And then the next point or next strategy is check closely for errors. So remember that your team members are going to be distraction and that their distraction can lead to errors and lower quality. So be on the lookout for that. And the last one is remember - it's okay to be angry but it's not okay to stay angry. I'm a big believer in letting others feel the way they feel. And if you choose to be angry, you can be angry. But I don't like when someone tries to tell me how I should or shouldn't feel. And I don't want to do that to anyone else. So we need to listen to your team members, let them vent. I often call these BMW sessions, bitch moan and whine sessions. And we've all been there and it may take a few of those BMW sessions with a team member before they can move on. And at some point, though, they need to recognize it is time to move on and it's your job to help make that happen.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 39:05
Impressive, impressive list. Okay, so let's go to some strategies for managing people in the denial stage, which is where people are basically fooling themselves that the change isn't really happening, right.
Marsha Clark 39:19
And they may even convince themselves that if they complain loud enough or try to slow things down that they (that infamous they) will change their minds about this new way and go back to the old way. So here's some leadership tips that I'll highlight for people who are in the denial stage. So as the leader, you want to offer instructions slowly and carefully when you're making assignments. And depending on the magnitude and the complexity of the change, it's a lot to take in. So when possible, write things down for team members. Continue to refine the instructions as you gather feedback from those who are completing the new tasks or assignments. The second is check for an understanding and challenge assumptions. And those are both your own assumptions and those of your team members. So when things are changing, whether it be changing processes, technology, organizational structure, and so on, recognize that your thinking potentially needs to change too. Assume good intent, and answer or discuss patiently and thoroughly what all is going on with the assignment and with the change. And then the third item is be specific with assignments. As things are changing, so may be the roles and responsibilities. And this is where the RACI chart framework can be introduced or used. And the RACI chart is the clarity of roles and responsibilities - who can recommend, who can approve, who needs to be communicated to - and the informed part, who needs to be a part of the information exchange. And so those are charts that we have in the book and then they're also out on the internet and our readers can find those, RACI chart. And then assign timetables. So based on the magnitude of the change, shorter timeframes when possible because you need to check more frequently for accuracy and quality because it can lend itself to smaller course corrections if in fact you get off track and that then results in less rework and also reinforcing the learning of the new way. And then lastly, is follow up closely. So ensure your team ensure your team managers that you're not micromanaging but rather exercising appropriate check and review activities for more efficient learning and producing quality results.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 41:53
Okay, next stage. Now let's look at some strategies for managing people in that identity crisis stage where team members are asking themselves if they can even be successful learning the new way.
Marsha Clark 42:07
Yeah, and I just want to say, listeners, I know this is dense. This might be one you need to listen to a couple of times to make the list and as the book comes out you'll have it included there. But so when we're in the identity crisis the doubts, concerns and fears may resurface louder than ever especially around changes in process, technology and people. So here are the strategies for leaders to use in this stage: Provide opportunities for constructive venting and constructive is the optimum word there. You want to listen and be supportive because your role is to listen and acknowledge their thoughts and feelings and answer any questions that they have. So provide that opportunity and don't just see it as resistance. See it as a way of working through the change. The second is build success experiences. Recognize and celebrate those successes because it will build momentum. The third is keep people involved. Your team members are the closest to the work and they're going to be gathering insights as the new way unfolds and progresses. And regular feedback sessions can be hugely helpful in identifying problems, breakdowns and breakthroughs as well as hearing from multiple points of view. And then re-recruit your best performers. And this is more than just paying retention bonuses, because a lot of organizations do that now. But let your best performers know that you appreciate them, that you appreciate their work and their leadership. And know that if your organization's change is a very public one that your competitors as well as executive recruiters are making calls to woo your best performers away so you've got to make sure that you're in touch with them, reinforcing them, celebrating them. And then you've got to coach and motivate your fence sitters. And so if you have team members who are kind of back and forth on the 'I'm on board' to 'I have issues and questions', help them identify what it's going to take for them to be all in. Keep them informed as issues are addressed, as challenges are overcome and questions are answered so that you can eliminate or resolve their resistance checklist items, if you will. And then also in this identity crisis spend more time one on one. You're going to have team meetings to share information updates along with status on progress being made. But you'll also want to spend more one on one time with each team member so that you can hear their unique concerns or questions.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 44:56
Something else you mentioned in the book around stages of change is that timing matters. For me, this is maybe one of the most powerful insights to help leaders recognize a potential blind spot they may have with how they roll out changes in the organization. So share with us what that concept is all about.
Marsha Clark 45:18
This is one of the those tough lessons I learned the hard way. As human beings, right, no matter what level we are, we're all going to go through the stages of change. Some are going to go faster and others are going to go slower. So I want our listeners to think of a timeline in their minds. And when a change is first defined and known by the executive team, we'll call that month zero. So the executives go through their own version of betrayal at month zero, denial a few months into it as the reality sets in, identity crisis happens at around month three and we're into searching for solutions by month five or six. And oftentimes, that's the executive timeline, but middles are often brought into the change initiative around month three. And then they have their own journey down that timeline in the stages of change. And then finally employees are brought in, the announcements are made say around month six, and where do they start?
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 46:26
At the very beginning with betrayal again, and they're also the bottoms. Bottoms in betrayal.
Marsha Clark 46:29
Bottoms in betrayal who are vulnerable, in a condition of vulnerability. And they start at betrayal but by now when they're finally brought in at month six, the executives are in the search for solutions' stage and middle managers are somewhere in the identity crisis stage.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 46:33
Okay, this right here is like an 'aha' moment, big time. And I'm sure this is for our listeners also just thinking about how much this explains why the leaders at the top of an organization gets so frustrated and impatient with the organization. All they see is resistance, but that's because they've already worked through theirs.
Marsha Clark 47:10
That's right! That is exactly right. That's why I said, Oh, my gosh, I wish I'd had this chart so much earlier. So but since first being exposed to the chart, I now use it when I'm discussing change at all levels of the organization. And I liken it to the map at the shopping mall, you know, the one with you are 'here'. And executives are if they recognize this timing for different groups, they're less likely to lose heart and start second guessing themselves, right? Or say, well, we got to tweak it big or we got it, maybe they do let it go. But because then the middle managers are recognizing that they're still trying to figure things out while answering questions from the employees on what's really happening. And then the employees are somewhere in the 'We're doing what?' stage. A wise colleague, and I'll give a shout out to Lorna Ricard, once shared this adage and I've quoted her many times since, "If you're two steps ahead of everyone else - your team, your organization - you're a leader. If you're ten steps ahead, you're a target." And, I want to be a leader bringing people along, not just running so fast and being so far ahead without acknowledging that others need the time to get through the stages. I want to be that leader bringing people along.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 48:34
Exactly. Okay, Marsha, as we start to wrap up, I know that you have what you call change tips that I think would be really helpful to share with our listeners today.
Marsha Clark 48:45
Yeah. I'm happy to do that and I find that these are especially important tips for leaders during a change initiative when it can feel like your responsibilities are overwhelming. And I share these with the hope that they can help you get through with a bit of greater ease and efficiency. So the first one is 'set expectations'. You know, that is such a common theme in my work, set expectations to meet reality. You want to hope for the best, you're going to strive to avoid the worst and you're probably going to plan for somewhere in between that. And you may have heard the sentiment under promise and over deliver. I'm not much of a fan of that approach, yet you realistically know things are going to take a little longer so set expectations accordingly and this is you know, be realistic. The second tip is 'recognize successes'. And I even say recognize inconspicuous successes. In one of our earlier exercise you saw that the effort increases even while quantity and quality decreases. So in order to build some momentum and increase confidence, recognize and celebrate smaller wins. Maybe these are so small that you might not normally recognize them. You need to when you're in in the midst of change and it's a way of encouraging your team to keep trying.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 50:14
I really like this third tip that's coming up next. 'On thin ice, skate fast.'
Marsha Clark 50:19
That's right. And I love the visual of that, right? And we have to explain this more in the state of Texas because we don't get a lot of, you know, ponds frozen over. So imagine yourself ice skating on a frozen pond, recognizing that the pond freezes from the outside edges in so that the center of the pond is where the thinnest ice is. So if you can envision a change initiative is getting from one side of the pond to the opposite side of the pond, you're going to need to skate fast on that thin ice in the center of the pond. So now imagine yourself getting to the center. You're skating, skating, skating, and all of a sudden you stop in the center. So all of your weight is concentrated in one area and the likelihood of you falling through that thin ice is pretty darn good. So the tip here is to encourage you to keep skating fast as you glide across that pond because with your weight distributed and moving, you're much less likely to fall through. So keep moving towards the goal or the desired end state.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 51:31
Yeah, I love everything about that visual, because I can't stand the cold and want to get to the other side.
Marsha Clark 51:39
All right. So the next one from the book is what I call communicate with the rules of eight. So generally speaking, we need to see something new eight times before we accept it as the new normal. So repeating accurate messages consistently will help people to absorb this new way. And you may think the repetitiveness would be off putting, but in fact, your team members will appreciate the reminders as the changes sink in. And so using all communication avenues that are available to you - individual conversations, team meetings, stakeholder meetings, newsletters, emails, organizational announcements - all of those are places where you can communicate.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 52:27
I also want to add on this one that it's not only about repetitiveness. It's also about the consistency of the message because if people are out there hoping to wait out the change, that it'll eventually like flitter off and fade away, this tip keeps reminding them that this isn't going away. Any inconsistency in the message could give them reasons to doubt that the change is real.
Marsha Clark 52:54
Yeah. I think that's a great point, Wendi. And that brings us to our final tip, which is 'influence'. And here's what I mean by that. Influence what you can and let the rest go.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 53:07
Okay, and you include an exercise in the book around this that I think would be amazing to wrap up our episode with and that is the activity with the Serenity Prayer. So will you walk everyone through that as we wrap it up here today?
Marsha Clark 53:22
Sure. And I think many of our listeners are likely familiar with the Serenity Prayer. But just in case, as a reminder, it goes like this: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference." And that was actually a quote from Reinhold Niebuhr. I hope I said that name, right. So the activity is what I call operationalizing the Serenity Prayer. And the subtitle for this tool is 'A tool for gaining focus during times of change'. So the learning objectives of the exercise are one, to get employees focused on things over which they have control, to get clarity around that, to encourage them to let go of those things over which they have no control and to get some shared view in a work group of which is which, right. So accept the things I cannot change (got to let go of those), courage to change the things I can (get focused on those and make it happen) and the wisdom to know the difference. (Do I have control or do I not have control?)
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 53:23
And then you have six steps to this exercise which will be in the transcript of the episode for anyone feeling like you want to take notes. So go ahead.
Marsha Clark 54:48
Yeah. So listeners, and don't feel like you have to write this down if you decide you want to do it on your own team. You know, go get the transcript. It will help you I think to be able to guide your team through this. So Step one, each person writes down their issues, challenges or questions. And I say one per page and typically I've used large sticky note pads that work well for this exercise. And so it's an individual exercise. You don't talk a whole lot about it. What concerns, what questions, what issues, challenges do you have with whatever the change initiative is. Step two, each person then goes through the process of separating their individual sheets into one of two stacks. First stack - those issues over which I have control and two - those issues over which I have no control. So this goes back to the wisdom to know the difference. You then want to collect the sheets from everyone keeping them separated by 'control over' and the other stack, 'no control over'. And then you want to post the sheets, you know, if you're using the sticky note pads, or lay them out by category. And what you will likely notice is that some people may have identified the same issue but in different categories. You may think you have control over it, I may think I don't have control over it and discuss why each person put the issue in their respective stack. And I'm going to tell you, the power of even those conversations is immense. And then you try to reach some consistence on which stack the group thinks that issue should go.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 56:31
Okay. I think that part of the exercise right there must be so fascinating, where people start to see that their perspectives or their story about the change is different from other people's. If they see this one challenge or issue is in both stacks from different people that, as you said, that in and of itself is is eye opening and probably opens them up to other possibilities.
Marsha Clark 56:59
Yeah, go back to the initial. If I fear change, I see it one way. If I love change, I'll see it this way. If I'm confident, you know all of that. So it's a rich discussion and it begins with people saying, "Why do you think you have no control over X or Y? Here are the five ways you can control it." And so it's important to facilitate the conversation so that it creates a safe space and where people don't get shut down. But you also need to allow for those contradictory perspectives to emerge because that's what this step can produce. And so then we go to Step four, and we ask the group to combine like issues. So don't lose sight of how many times an issue is cited because that's important data for you to know where your high leverage opportunities or your greatest challenges might be. So it's all data in that regard. And then in Step five, once you've combined groups, you focus the group on the different categories over which you have control, the different items in the category of control over and you divide the group as appropriate. And this is based on the number of issues and number of individuals in the group. And you ask each group to develop an action plan to address each of the issues over which they have control. And this can be a short term or a long term assignment. And that's typically based on the complexity of the issue or the urgency of the issue.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 58:27
Okay, Marsha. I have a timing question. Is there a deliberate reason why you have the group focus on the 'control over' issues before the 'no control over' ones?
Marsha Clark 58:40
Yes, because when we feel we have a sense of control, it is like helping us get back to a balanced state. So human beings long to be in control of our lives, of our thinking, of whatever it may be. But during change we can feel like our lives are out of control because we can't predict with a high success or reliability, right, like we once did. So once we realize we have control over something we can begin to act or execute with greater confidence and greater clarity and that helps really minimize our obsessions or our negative fantasies of all the things that can be bad or go wrong and it supports the 'change the things that I can' part of the Serenity Prayer.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 59:30
That totally makes sense.
Marsha Clark 59:31
So then that sets the group up to explore Step six, which is where they will focus on the 'no control over' issues and determine if the group thinks they have some influence over these issues. And if so, what recommendations might they have for in fact influencing? So capture that information. And when I've used this and I've used this many times, my experience is that the leader of the group takes on the responsibility for communicating the recommendations of their own team to senior leadership. And if appropriate, you may want include members of your work group in communicating and facilitating those recommendations. And as I said, I've used this tool many times as a leader of teams involved in change initiatives. And many of my clients have also used it to help team members focus on those things over which they have control. So this is like a tool in our listeners toolkit and I hope that they'll find it useful as well.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 1:00:34
Well Marsha, what a gift, a present, this was today and I can see why we saved it for this holiday week. I'm guessing that many of our listeners are facing changes in the coming year as is our country. And I feel like this awareness and the tips will be very helpful strategically, tactically, as well as even emotionally. So thank you for sharing this powerful content. Is there anything you'd like to be sure and leave our listeners with today?
Marsha Clark 1:01:04
Yeah, I do have a couple of what I might think of as final thoughts. From my experience in these thousands of change initiatives that I've gone through, I know that so many organizations tend to focus change efforts on the processes, the technology or the new structure. And the content that I've shared today is intended to help our listeners manage the people side of change. So as human beings, no matter what the change is, we're likely to go through the stages we talked about today, betrayal, denial, identity, crisis, search for solutions. And I hope that everyone found the frameworks, the tips, you know exercises helpful, reflection questions, and so on, because change is hard. And your job as a leader of a team or teams is to manage through your own personal challenges and considerations as well as leading your team through their own challenges and considerations. So here's to each of our listeners being that confident leader who inspires her team because the opportunity really does exist to make things better.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 1:02:13
Yes. Here's to her. I love it. All right. Well thank you, listeners, for joining us today on this journey of authentic, powerful leadership. Please continue to download, subscribe and share this podcast. Give a gift of this podcast to someone, a lovely lady leader in your life or gentleman leader in your life. Check out Marsha's website at marshaclarkandassociates.com. We are very rapidly approaching the second book, "Expanding Your Power" being out. So keep up to date on that on Marsha's website. And Marsha, you want to wrap us up?
Marsha Clark 1:02:54
I will and you know I too invite our listeners to get in touch with us if there's anything they heard today that they don't fully understand or they'd like to explore further or ways in which we can help them and their teams. We're here for you in that regard. And I do encourage all of our listeners to share or repost or however you might think about it, to offer this information to a broader audience. We're all caught up and change and it's hard. And I think the more information we have, the more tools we have these change initiatives can be easier to go through and will achieve more of the stated outcomes that we we hoped for when we describe the change to begin with. And the material we shared today and organizational systems and you know group dynamics and all of that, it is good for both men and women to hear and to learn from. So listeners, we would appreciate you sharing this and making it accessible to your networks as well. And Wendi and all the women who listen, all the women who go into making this podcast possible, I just want to reinforce we, too, are in the midst of change in many ways and times and as always, "Here's to women supporting women!"
Transcribed by https://otter.ai