Why Change Hurts: Part II – No Urgent Need and Vision Statement

Road unclearIn my last post I talked about gaining project team support. This week I’m going to blow your mind with something truly amazing. You ready? Vision statements aren’t just something for companies to use as a guiding force and post on their website! They work just as well for individual change projects too – and they work in a similar way. Just like organizations need to know where they’re heading and what they’re trying to accomplish, so too do project leads, their teams, and their stakeholders. After all, accomplishing your end goal is entirely dependent on the efforts of any number of people – not all of whom can just be expected to intuitively know what the goal is or WHY that’s the goal. Identifying and communicating an urgent need statement AND clear vision is one of the most important functions a project lead/change manager can do to help gain buy-in from stakeholders (including leadership).

Creating an Urgent Need Statement

Creating an urgent need statement helps explain the current issue and WHY things need to change. It answers two questions:urgency

  1. What is the risk of not changing?
  2. Why should people want to change?

As you think about these questions frame it in two contexts: the business and the stakeholder; what is the risk to the COMPANY if things don’t change? What is the risk of the STAKEHOLDER if things don’t change? Jot down your answers to create talking points. When you can answer both these questions use your talking points to create your statement. It’s important that your urgent need satisfies both the rational AND emotional side of your stakeholders – it’s the only way this is going to work. You connect solely to the emotional side and your stakeholders are going to think you’re hiding something and they’re not going to commit. If you connect solely to the rational side your stakeholders are going to feel they aren’t being cared for and they’re not going to commit.

Creating a Vision Statement

A vision statement is meant to increase the appeal of the change to stakeholders by providing a positive picture of what is possible in the future.  It answers three questions:

  1. What is the positive picture of the future state?
  2. What does success look like?
  3. Why should people continue to strive to create the change?

Just like you did with the urgent need statement, frame your answers in two contexts: the business and the stakeholder; what is the positive picture of the future state for the COMPANY? what is the positive picture of the future state for the STAKEHOLDER?. When you can answer all three questions use your talking points to create your statement.


Creating a clear and effective vision delivers many benefits to your project but most importantly it helps guide the behavior of all employees affected by the change and improves productivity and efficiency.
A good vision:

  • Can motivate and empower project team members and other stakeholders.
  • Allows you to properly delineate plans because there is a guiding force behind the project.
  • Brings meaning to peoples’ project work, mobilizes them to action, and helps them decide what to do and what not to do in the course of their project work.
  • Grab people and then bring them into the fold.

A GREAT vision:

  • Identifies direction and purpose
  • Sets standards of excellence
  • Is persuasive and credible
  • Inspires enthusiasm and encourages commitment
  • Is well articulated and easily understood
  • Is ambitious
  • Calls for a shared commitment
  • Fits with the business’ unique culture and values

My client had an urgent need and vision statement. It was actually quite good. The problem was that she didn’t share it with others. She never once explained to her team the WHY or the what, or the how, of this project; let alone ask for their input on these two crucial statements. Imagine for a second she had. Not only would she have INVOLVED her internal stakeholders in the process, she would have also started to gain buy-in from them and who knows? Maybe she would have discovered a crucial piece of the puzzle was missing. Her decision to go it alone cost her this project. You have an opportunity to work with others and make your project a success, why not give it a try?

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Why Change Hurts: Part I – Project team support

change hurts

A few months ago I began working with a new client. She has been working on a decently sized project that is meant to save the company upwards of $1.5M. By the time I was brought in, the project was well under way – it started about 6 months prior – and several issues had surfaced but were yet to be addressed; employees were starting to talk. Most notably:

  • Her project team was resisting her every step of the way,
  • There was a complete lack of an urgent need and vision statement (why are we changing? What will the future look like?),
  • There was unclear and inconsistent messaging,
  • Stakeholder involvement was minimal, and
  • There was no leadership alignment.

Needless to say, this project was a challenge. It was a challenge for many reasons. Over the next few weeks I will address these challenges and why they need to be addressed in this four part series on why change hurts.

Lack of Project Team Support:

Unless you’re prepared to handle the entire project by yourself, you’re going to have to work well with others. Sometimes you luck out and get to work with a great group of people, you’re all located in one area and group dynamics are great. Other times, as is the case with this client, you get put on a project team where members are geographically dispersed, uncommitted, and maybe even resistant to the project to begin with. The problem is, you never know at the outset what you’re getting and wishing for the best isn’t going to get you very far.

So what can you do in these situations? For starters, I recommend treating your project team members as stakeholders. After all, they’re likely to be affected by the upcoming changes as well. Even if they’re not, they still need to become as committed to a change as any other impacted stakeholder. Here are some tips on engaging project teams to increase commitment.

  • Explain the project to your team. What does this change mean for your team? How will they be affected? How will their peers/supervisors/direct reports be affected?
  • Communicate early and often. People don’t understand a change by hearing about it once. People need to hear messaging 5-7 times – and a quick email or a memo isn’t going to cut it; two-way conversations to encourage discussion is key here. Don’t forget to keep team members in the loop throughout the project as well! You need their support!
  • Involve the team. Participation increases commitment, commitment increases the likelihood of project success. Don’t assume you have all the answers, team members likely have a better handle on how the upcoming project will affect your stakeholders. Don’t be afraid to use their knowledge! Not only will it allow your team to have a say in the how the project unfolds (building their commitment!), but it will also open up a world of possibilities for a successful rollout. What could be better?

Although it happens more frequently than change practitioners would like, we’re frequently brought in on a project late in the game, once the proverbial shit has hit the fan. In a perfect world, we’d be brought in from the very beginning, so we’d have a chance to minimize these concerns. But what can we do if the project has already started and the team is unsupportive?

  • Take a step back. Sometimes stepping outside the project and looking in can help. Reflect on the project kick-off meeting, past conversations, the impacts of the project. Was something skimmed over that needs to be readdressed? Does the team understand the project? Were their concerns addressed? If not…
  • Talk about it. More often than not an issue can be solved by addressing the issue at hand. Is it uncomfortable? YES! Is it awkward? YESSS!!! Is it worth it? YEEEESSSSSS!!!! If there’s something going on that’s making you uncomfortable, it’s likely making others feel the same way. Being brave and addressing it creates a sense of camaraderie. If there’s someone on the team you trust speak to them ahead of time to see if they’ve noticed anything going on with the team. Ask for feedback. See if there’s anything you can do to make things run smoother.
  • Get the champion and/or sponsor involved. Lack of team engagement isn’t always your fault. You could be the best team player and have the best of intentions, but if there is no leadership visibility there’s a big problem. People want to see that leadership is involved and engaged. They want to know all the work they’re doing isn’t being done in vein. Ask your champion to join a few meetings and talk about the importance of the project and what it means for the organization.

What are some ways you’ve turned an unsupportive project team around?

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Work Groups vs. Teams

dogs-group-teamThe other day I was having lunch with my mentor when our discussion turned from our typical banter to an issue he was having with a group he was working with. Throughout the conversation he kept using the word group. Eventually he explained, “I call it a group and not a team because we are not acting like a team. We are literally a group of people working towards a similar goal, but we are not holding each other accountable, we are not helping each other; we are all individually providing work products and hoping it will come together in the end. We are just a group of people focused on our individual tasks.” He’s right. Work groups and teams are incredibly different, yet we use the words interchangeably. Then we get frustrated when our groups aren’t behaving like a team because we aren’t identifying it properly to begin with. If we are better able to see the differences between the two, we can work at managing our expectations better and perhaps we can even start turning our groups into teams. Here’s a chart to help you see the differences:


What do you think about this list? Is there anything you would add? Is there a time when it’s better to work as a group rather than a team?

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What Surfing taught me About Life and Success

portugal-surfLast month my husband and I went to California for vacation (it was our California Road Trip EXTRAVAGANZA!). While we were there we took the opportunity to take a couple surf lessons at a great place in Santa Cruz. I didn’t realize it at the time, but our instructor Ed wasn’t just teaching us how to surf, he was teaching us about life. Here are some of the lessons that stuck out the most for me:

  1. Fear is the destroyer of success
    That first day we went surfing was grueling. The swells were incredibly strong and to be perfectly honest, they were terrifying. After a while, my fear – I don’t even know what exactly I was afraid of was it drowning? Falling? Getting hurt? Was it all of the above? – consumed me and I could no longer function. I spoke to Ed about it, and we tried all sorts of techniques to calm me down. But nothing was working. I allowed my fear to get the best of me and told him I was ready to go back to the beach.  My fearless husband stayed out in the ocean with a friend of Ed’s until he got back…
  2. Without perseverance you’re just another person on the beach watching everyone else have fun
    On my way back to shore with Ed we decided I was just too afraid to focus that day. We decided it would be best to come back the following day, when the waves would be calmer. I was happy about that decision. Especially when I was that person on the beach watching everyone else have all the fun. The following day my husband and I went back in the water with our wonderful teacher for another lesson. This time was INCREDIBLE! The waves were so different, the mood was different. The world was different! Both of us were able to actually stand up on our boards and ride the wave all the way in.
  3. Before taking action, clear your head of negativity
    Once I began to get the hang of things that second day,  I noticed something powerful. The minute I began thinking negatively or started doubting my ability to do this, I would fall right off that board. But when I focused on what I had to do, I would ride that wave all the way in.
  4.  Patience is crucial
    Sometimes it can take upwards of 20 minutes to catch a really good wave. You have to be patient and wait. Sometimes, a decent enough wave comes your way and you have to ask yourself “is it better to be patient and do this right, or to go at the first inkling of a wave and miss the boat entirely?” You learn very quickly out there to wait. Believe me; swimming against the tide to get back to where you were isn’t easy; which leads me to my next point…
  5. Something may be difficult, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be fun
    Surfing is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was also the most fun. A sense of humor and a good outlook not only made those two days of surfing loads of fun, it also made us more successful. Like I said before, negativity wears us down and impairs our ability to succeed.
  6. Take the time to do something that makes you truly happy each day
    That second day we went surfing, we started bright and early – around 7AM. By the time we got in the ocean there were surfers everywhere.   At one point, a gentleman came over to Ed and explained to us that Ed had taught him to surf nearly 20 years ago. After talking to us for a little bit he said he had to get going to work. And it hit me and my husband like a ton of bricks. This guy gets up early every morning to do something he absolutely loves before he goes to work. My point is, not all of us are lucky enough to have a job we love. But most of us do have something we love to do. Carve out some time during your day to do something you love, and I guarantee your happiness will grow.
  7. Sometimes, encouragement from a stranger is the best motivation there is What has stuck with me the most from this experience wasn’t the community surrounding these surfers in Santa Cruz – they all seemed to know each other, there was a true sense of camaraderie, and they all just wanted to have a good time – although that was certainly impressive and warmed my heart. What really stuck out the most was the encouragement they gave to me and my husband. They all knew from our “Club Ed student” shirts that we were novices, but they didn’t get annoyed with us, on the contrary, we were given words of support and we were praised for our efforts.  By the middle of that second lesson my body was stiff, I was sore, and it was getting harder and harder to swim back out to the ocean. But those words of encouragement from complete strangers gave me the extra push I needed to keep doing it, to keep trying.
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Stop Making an ASS out of U and ME and Start Questioning your Assumptions


Let’s face it, we all make assumptions. We observe something and we select key pieces of that observation, turn it into “data”, and make our own reality. The problem with this is that we often tend to jump to conclusions that aren’t necessarily correct.  The Ladder of Inference describes the thinking process that we go through, usually on a subconscious level, to go from a fact to a decision or action. The thinking stages can be seen as rungs on a ladder.
Starting at the ground level of the ladder, we have reality and facts. From there, we:

  •  Select data from what is observed – Here is where the filtering begins. We create assumptions about which parts of the event we have observed are important. This assumption about importance is based on how the things that have been observed affect you or me, or fit into our cultural experience. A person from one culture may not understand the significance of events that occur within another culture. Culture can be large (a country, religious group, political party, or shared language), or small (individual, family, or workgroup).
  • Add meaning to what we have selected – At this point, we infer meaning using the norms of our respective cultures, or experiences.
  • Make assumptions based on the meaning we’ve added – This process begins to fill in gaps in knowledge. Where we don’t know something about the event, I naturally assume that the motivations, behaviors, wants, desires, likes and dislikes should match my own. These assumptions take the guesswork out of understanding the situation.
  • Draw conclusions which prompt feelings – Now that the situation is understood, and the gaps have been filled with assumptions, we can draw conclusions about why a person is behaving a certain way, or why something is happening.
  • Adopt beliefs about the world – Based on the conclusions we made earlier, we can now see that there are things within the world that are both in and out of alignment. We start experiencing either negative or positive feelings about the situation. And, because of this, believe some form of action is necessary.
  • Take action based on beliefs and feelings – Now that the entire situation is fully understood we take the necessary action. This is often an emotional, rather than a rational response.

Because our beliefs have a big effect on how we form our reality this generates a vicious ladder_of_inference(1)cycle, and can cause us to ignore the true facts altogether. Soon we are literally jumping to conclusions by missing facts and skipping steps in the reasoning process. Take a look at the diagram for a visual representation of what I’m talking about. As you can see, the first time we experience something (maybe it was yesterday, maybe it was 15 years ago, it doesn’t really matter) we work our way UP the latter, all the way to the top – taking actions based on your beliefs – those actions tend to further solidify and prove that our belief was correct. So from that point forward our new belief becomes our reality and affects what data we select next time, creating what is called a reflexive loop.
However, we can use the Ladder of Inference, to get back to the facts and use our beliefs and experiences to positively expand our field of judgment. Following this step-by-step reasoning can lead us to better results, based on reality, and avoid unnecessary mistakes and conflict.
The Ladder of Inference helps us draw better conclusions, or challenge other people’s conclusions based on true facts and reality. It can be used to help analyze hard data, like a set of sales figures, or to test assertions, such as “the project will go live in April”.
The step-by-step reasoning process helps you remain objective and, when working with others, reach a shared conclusion without conflict.
Try using these two tips to challenge your thinking using the Ladder of Inference:

  1. Consider your reasoning and identify which rung of the ladder you are on. Are you:
    1. Selecting your data or reality?
    2. Interpreting what it means?
    3. Making or testing assumptions?
    4. Forming or testing conclusions?
    5. Deciding what to do and why?
  2. Once you know which rung you are on, examine how your reasoning got you there by working back down the ladder. This will help you trace your steps in order to discover the facts and reality you are actually working with. The following questions will help you work your way back down the latter (starting from the top)
    1. Why have I chosen this course of action? Are there other actions I should have considered?
    2. What belief led to that action? Was it logical?
    3. Why did I draw that conclusion?
    4. What am I assuming and why? Are my assumptions valid?
    5. What data have I chosen to use and why? Have I selected data accurately?
    6. What are the real facts that I should be using? Are there other facts I may have missed on my way up the ladder?

When working through your reasoning, look out for rungs that you tend to jump. Are you inclined to make assumptions too easily? Are you more likely to select only part of the data? Note your tendencies so that you can learn to do that stage or reasoning with extra care next time.

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Learn How to Learn

machinelearninglogoToday at work I began working on a new endeavor to bring in external executive coaches to our organization. As I was reviewing their PowerPoint presentation, I noticed they began talking about triple-loop learning, but said very little about what it is. If there is a triple-loop, doesn’t that mean there’s a single and double-loop out there too? I quickly realized that most of the executives viewing this presentation would have no idea what triple-loop learning is, let alone, double or single. This then made me wonder how many people out there know what this is, or the importance it plays on our daily lives, both at work and at home. So I decided I’d write a blog post about it and share it with you. Organizations today thrive on information, the more the better. But there seems to be a lack of insight that comes with that knew found information. Lots of us can turn new information (facts organized by outside sources but not yet integrated into one’s thinking) into knowledge. But not many of us give ourselves the opportunity to convert our new knowledge into insight or wisdom.  Blame it on whatever or whomever you’d like, but if we’re to ever get anywhere, we need to begin developing a culture of learning.  This happens best with an understanding of how learning occurs.

Essentially based on the works of Gregory Bateson, and extended by Chris Argyris, Donald Schon, and Peter Senge, the concepts of single-loop, double-loop, and triple-loop learning help clarify the ways we can learn:

Single-Loop Learning (Incremental Learning)
Are we doing things right? Here’s what to do—procedures or rules.

Single-loop learning assumes that problems and their solutions are close to each other in time and space (though they often aren’t). In this form of learning, we are primarily considering our actions. Small changes are made to specific practices or behaviors, based on what has or has not worked in the past. This involves doing things better without necessarily examining or challenging our underlying beliefs and assumptions. The goal is improvements and fixes that often take the form of procedures or rules. Single-loop learning leads to making minor fixes or adjustments. Think about how a thermostat operates. When it detects the room is too cold, it turns on the furnace. When it detects it’s too hot, it turns it off.

With this kind of system little or no learning occurs and little or no insight is needed. Experts assert that most organizations operate according to single-loop learning – employees establish rigid strategies, policies, and procedures; and then spend their time detecting and correcting deviations from the rules.

You might exhibit this kind of learning when you notice that your employee, Steve has not produced a certain deliverable on time during a project, so you get angry and demand that he produce the deliverable – without ever actually exploring why he didn’t produce the deliverable in the first place.


Double-Loop Learning (Reframing)
Are we doing the right things? Here’s why this works—insights and patterns.

Double-loop learning often unfolds similar to single-loop learning, but goes beyond it. This framework leads to insights about why a solution works. In this form of learning, we reflect on our actions based on our assumptions. This is the level of process analysis where people become observers of themselves, asking, “What is going on here? What are the patterns?” We need this insight to understand the pattern. We change the way we make decisions and deepen understanding of our assumptions. It involves thinking outside the box, creativity, and critical thinking. Also, it often helps people understand why a particular solution works better than others in solving a problem or achieving a goal. Experts assert that double-loop learning is critical to the success of an organization, especially during times of rapid change.

Think back to my example with Steve. Double-loop learning occurs when you engage Steve in a discussion about why he was unable to produce his deliverable. Perhaps your expectations were not realistic.

Triple-Loop Learning (Transformational Learning)
How do we decide what is right? Here’s why we want to be doing this—principles

Triple-loop learning involves principles. The learning goes beyond insight and patterns to context. The result creates a shift in understanding our context or point of view. We produce new commitments and ways of learning. This form of learning challenges us to understand how problems and solutions are related. It also challenges us to understand how our previous actions created the conditions that led to our current problems. The relationship between organizational structure and behavior is fundamentally changed because the organization learns how to learn. The results of this learning includes enhancing ways to comprehend and change our purpose, developing better understanding of how to respond to our environment, and deepening our comprehension of why we chose to do things we do.

Back to Steve. Triple-loop learning occurs when, after having engaged in discussion with Steve, both of you discuss the dynamics of your conversation, including how it was conducted, what learning was produced from the conversation and how that learning was produced.

Here’s a nice visual provided by the Kollner Group to help you see the ways the different learning loops work.


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How to Effectively Coach Your Boss

coachLet’s be honest, we’ve all worked for a difficult boss; so we know what a pain in the ass they can be. But fear not friends! There is something you can do about it… coach your boss. You read that right folks, coach your boss! Here are a few steps to help you get you started so you don’t wind up getting canned:

  1. Give your boss the benefit of the doubt. Assume he doesn’t realize how his actions, tone of voice, briskness, rushing about, changing meetings at the last minute, (insert your biggest qualm here) affect you and your team. Chances are your boss isn’t waking up in the morning with new and improved ideas on how to ruin your day.
  2. Got a PlanPlan your conversation. In other words, don’t go into this meeting on a whim. Pick a topic ahead of time, allow yourself time to practice what you want to say and how you want to say it. If you’re angry or upset, allow yourself enough time to cool off. Helpful tip: Offering a genuine compliment is a good way to start a difficult conversation. But beware: it must be authentic. Otherwise, it will feel (and look) like manipulation.
  3. Check the timing. Even though it doesn’t always feel like it, bosses are people, too. They have families, pay bills, and struggle with the same things you do. They probably have a boss as well. They have good days and bad. And, sometimes they are more receptive to input than others. Find a time when the boss is not in a bad mood or distracted by other things.
  4. Ask for permission. You might say something like, “hey (boss) I’d like to discuss something with you that I think would be helpful to both of us; may I speak openly?” Wait for your boss to give you permission before you go on. It’s difficult for a boss to take offense if he or she has given you permission to proceed.
  5. Put it in context. Help your boss understand how his behavior is keeping him from accomplishing his goals. For example, “I love how team-oriented you are but when you cut me off mid-sentence, it makes me want to withdraw and not participate.” Or, “You have always encouraged me to set high goals and believe in myself, but when you snap at me, I feel disengaged and want to give up.”
  6. Be humble. Don’t correct your boss out of anger. Don’t correct her out of pride. Instead, acknowledge that both of you are human and you both have shortcomings. The point is, you’re on the same team and you need each other to succeed, all the more reason to help each other.
  7. Take the risk. Speaking out definitely takes courage. But keep in mind, you will never grow into the leader you were meant to be if you’re not willing to take a risk and speak up from time to time. Being a yes man (unless you’re Jim Carrey) won’t get you promoted, but being courageous will eventually work in your favor (as long as it’s done from the heart).
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