My New Hero

I just watched this little kid’s video. You should too. What will you do to make this world more awesome?

Kid Wisdom You Need to Listen to…Now.

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Next Time, Try Feedforward

istock_BossTalkingWithEmployee_350Offering feedback has been an essential skill for leaders to possess for ages. As they strive to achieve the goals of the organization, employees need to know how they are doing; they need to learn what they have done well and what they need to change. Traditionally, this information has been communicated in the form of feedback from leaders to their employees.

But as Marshall Goldsmith  aptly points out, there is something inherently wrong with feedback: it focuses on the past and not on how to improve in the future. As such, feedback can be limiting. Feedforward on the other hand gives someone suggestions for the future on how to improve and it does so in a way that keeps the receiver off the defensive.

Before we go on, I’d like to point out that no one is implying that you should never give feedback, or that performance appraisals should be tossed out the window. However, feedforward can often be preferable to feedback in daily interactions.

Communication between and among people at all levels and between departments and divisions is the glue that holds organizations together. By using feedforward leaders can dramatically improve the quality of communication in their organizations, ensuring that the right message is conveyed, and those who receive it are receptive to its content. The result is a much more dynamic, open organization—one whose employees focus on the promise of the future rather than the mistakes of the past.

Giving Feedforward:

Remember you want to focus on the future and not dwell on the issue at hand. Perhaps you images2felt an employee could have done a better job presenting some key information to you, or that an employee isn’t handling a stressful situation so well. Try using these lead-ins:

  • Consider…
  • As you move ahead, you might be more successful if you…
  • One suggestion for the future is…
  • Start to…  I think that would be helpful.
  • For the future, I would appreciate it if you would…  It would help me (or the team) to…
  • I’ve seen several people increase their effectiveness by…   Maybe that’s an idea you might try.
  • From now on, …
  • Going forward, …

Still Not Convinced?

Goldsmith has watched over ten thousand executives try out this feedforward process. At the end of each session he asked  participants to provide one word that best describes their reaction to this experience by completing the sentence, “This exercise was …” The words provided usually extremely positive, such as “great”, “energizing”, “useful”, or “helpful.” Do you know what one of the most commonly-mentioned words was? “Fun!” Fun? Have you ever heard someone describe a feedback activity as fun?! I certainly have not!

Goldsmith then asked participants why they felt this exercise was fun, here are some of their responses:

  1. We can change the future. We can’t change the past, but feedforward helps people envision and focus on a positive future, not a failed past
  2. It’s more productive.  It’s easier to help people learn to be “right,” than prove they were “wrong.” Negative feedback often becomes an exercise in “let me prove you were wrong” which tends to produce defensiveness on the part of the receiver and discomfort on the part of the sender. Even constructively delivered feedback is often seen as negative. Feedforward, on the other hand, is almost always seen as positive because it focuses on solutions – not problems.
  3. It can come from anyone who knows about the task. It doesn’t require personal experience with the individual. One very common positive reaction to the exercise is that participants are amazed by how much they can learn from people they don’t know! Feedforward’s only requirement is having good ideas for achieving the task.
  4. It can reinforce the possibility of change. Feedforward is based on the assumption that the receiver of suggestions can make positive changes in the future.
  5. Feedforward can cover almost all of the same “material” as feedback. Imagine that you have just made a terrible presentation in front of the executive committee. Your manager is in the room. Rather than make you “relive” this humiliating experience, your manager might help you prepare for future presentations by giving you suggestions for the future. These suggestions can be very specific and still delivered in a positive way. In this way your manager can cover the same points without feeling embarrassed and without making you feel even more humiliated.
  6. pay attentionPeople tend to listen more attentively to feedforward. One participant in the feedforward exercise noted, “I think that I listened more effectively in this exercise than I ever do at work!” When asked why, he responded, “Normally, when others are speaking, I am so busy composing a reply that will make sure that I sound smart – that I am not fully listening to what the other person is saying I am just composing my response. In feedforward the only reply that I am allowed to make is ‘thank you’. Since I don’t have to worry about composing a clever reply – I can focus all of my energy on listening to the other person!”

Aside from its effectiveness and efficiency, feedforward can make life and work a lot more enjoyable.

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How to Implement Change, Even when you don’t have the Authority

change

Years ago,  I became infuriated by the amount of paper being wasted on a daily – no, hourly – basis at work. We printed out everything. That’s not even an exaggeration. Emails, pictures, draft memos, draft reports, basically anything you could imagine, we were printing… and throwing away. At first I wasn’t too upset because I was told as long as we shred it it’ll go to recycling. Then I learned that wasn’t exactly true (read: not true at all). For days I was stewing over this. Each time I printed something out for my boss my heart broke a little bit. With each sheet I printed, I imagined tree after tree tumbling down to the ground, cute forest animals with big eyes running (or flying, or slithering) away in fear, with nowhere for them to go and plumes of smoke rising from the ground (I’m talking FernGully devastation here) and there was nothing I could do. I was the low woman on the totem pole, if I told people to stop wasting so much paper they’d laugh in my face. I knew this because I tried. I had dropped hints about the damage we were doing to the environment, but no one seemed to give a damn and I was getting really angry.

                Then one day it hit me. There’s always more than one way to reach a goal. I just had to think outside the box and discover a new way to get others on board to reduce paper waste. First, I had to come up with a game plan, the “save the world” approach clearly wasn’t working, so what would? Talking numbers! I needed to figure out exactly how much money was being wasted on paper waste. Once I realized just how much money we were spending I knew I had a solid argument. I even had a solid solution. SCRAP PAPER! Why throw away semi-used paper when we can save it for scrap paper?! My next job was to find an ally, someone with more authority than me, and would be willing to help. Once all of this was figured out I had a sit down with my colleague. We discussed a lot that day and she was excited to help me in this endeavor. It began small with just the two of us. We’d save whatever paper we could and place it in a scrap paper bin. Whenever we were printing out pages of a draft report, we’d use that paper from the bin.

Within a few weeks others began noticing what we were doing and they began to follow suit as well. The scrap paper bin became public domain where people would either come by for a scrap paper drop off or pick up. It was an exciting time! This was the first time I had ever successfully implemented a change at my company, and it felt great!  One day, my boss came over to me with a complaint about the new scrap paper system – there were times when he wasn’t sure which side was the old and which was the new, so we made some additional changes and began putting a big X across the old side of the page.

The purpose of this story isn’t to brag about my relatively small but successful change initiative, it’s to show you that no matter what your position is, you DO have the power to make a difference. A very wise teacher of mine once read us a quote that said “power is lying there on the streets, waiting to be picked up”.  Anyone can gain the power to make a difference in their lives. To make it a little easier for you here are some tips to help you get things done:

  1. Think about what you want to change and ask yourself: what is the purpose? What do I hope to accomplish (my goal)? Where do I want to go? Write down your answers and save them, it’s easy to lose track of where you’re going when you’ve been working on something for a while. Also, think about different ways to frame your change effort in order to get others on board.  No one wanted to change their printing habits when I said it was to help the environment, but when I said it was to reduce spending and save money people began to listen.
  2. Discover what you know. You may be surprised to find that most of the time you already know what you need to know in order to take action. The only thing standing between you and results is your own mind.
  3. Ask yourself what do I need to learn in order to take action?  There’s a ton of information out there, and it can be overwhelming, but since you set up your goal in the first step it’ll be much easier for you to sift through the information and focus on what you want to achieve.  Before you start looking for new information, make sure you know what you need and why you need it.
  4. sports-camp-clipartFind yourself a champion. Every change initiative needs at least one champion to improve your chances of success. Champions are people who believe in what you are trying to accomplish and want to help. They lead by example and show others that change isn’t going to kill them; it’s going to make them better.
  5. Realize there will always be obstacles on your path. Expect them. Every successful person has faced many obstacles. And they’ve failed over and over again. Remember! The problem isn’t failure; it’s how you perceive it. Most people think mistakes are bad, but the opposite is true. Mistakes are the path that leads to success. To truly succeed identify the obstacles on your path to achieving your goal  and brainstorm how you can overcome them even before they happen.
  6. Baby steps. What is the next smallest step I can take? Constantly focus on what you can do next. Without forward momentum, you will never end up where you want to be.
  7. Commitment. Remember, the conditions won’t be always be perfect for most of the steps you take but the important thing is that you’re taking action. You have to move forward in spite of the excuses your mind throws at you. There will be times when you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, that’s completely normal. If you feel that happening take a short break and remind yourself that what you’re working towards is worth it.
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What is Leadership Anyway?

leadership

When Justice Potter Stewart was asked to define pornography he famously said he could not define it, but he certainly knows it when he sees it. So too can be said for leadership. We all know a great (or really crummy) leader when we see one, but the majority of us cannot come up with a common definition that isn’t a million miles long because we all look at leaders differently, it seems to be such a case-by-case thing to define, and everyone wants something different in a leader at different times. I don’t like the idea of having a formal definition of leadership because in doing so, we either limit the potential of leaders, or we expand the definition to be so large that we set ourselves (and our leaders) up for failure and disappointment.

There are many different types of leaders out there (transactional, transformational, authentic, and servant, to name a few) but to truly be an effective leader we cannot always rely on one style. What we can do is learn from all these styles and become a more adaptable leader, allowing ourselves to not get trapped in one style. We need to realize that following a set script all the time is not a fail-safe way to lead, and perhaps even more importantly, we need to learn that failure is not something to run from, rather is should be embraced as a learning experience. To be an effective leader we must be adaptable. Further, while I may not like setting a definition for leadership, I do believe we should come up with a few “sound bites” for it. Something that embraces the key functions of a leader, but still leaves the door wide open for more interpretations. To me, those sound bites would be charismatic, caring, future-focused, and visionary. However, if we give a few points, we give room for interpretation and creativity, allowing for leadership roles to blossom.

As humans (heck, animals do this as well), we have always looked to leadership to help us survive, accomplish tasks and work more efficiently. Leaders came out of the woodwork out of necessity. Pack leaders and tribe leaders often came about naturally. There was no definition of what a leader was and yet they still existed, and they still succeeded. We needed something and they had that “something” to offer.

The point I’m trying to make is that what we have needed in a leader has been different during each era. I wonder what life would be like today had the cavemen written down what leadership meant. Would we have progressed as a species to where we are today or would we be further advanced? I am not sure any of us know the answer. However, what we do know is that there came a time in history where being the strongest man in the group was no longer enough to lead. Somewhere along the way people realized strength, while important was no longer the end all be all of leadership; leaders needed to be wise, calculating, and have a certain vision of their community’s future as well. Certainly there were rules in place about leadership roles and what they meant, just like there are today; yet I cannot help but wonder if the lack of distinct definition enabled us to persevere and move forward, mostly because I think most people fear change so much that they will hold on to things (like a definition) and not allow change to occur with the times, even if it leads to a better future.

So if we don’t have a clear and concise definition of leadership, you may be asking yourself how we know if a leader is successful. We can judge the success of a leader by looking at a few key factors.

  1. Examine the leader’s style and work and determine if she is working effectively with other leaders in the organization as well as her staff.
  2. Look for a general consensus from the leader’s staff and ask them several questions: Do they feel respected? Do they feel empowered? Do they feel leader has given them a clear and easily understood vision of the future? Has the leader exhibited empathy towards their staff? Do they support those who may need additional help for some reason out of the ordinary (i.e., employees out sick when there is a deadline, a hurricane traps most employees in their homes)? I would also examine her ability to encourage her “followers” to step outside their comfort zone, to inspire them to do more than what is expected, and inspire her staff to work with others outside their core group to accomplish a goal.
  3. Take a look at the leader herself. How does she handle herself in high stress situations? Does she speak confidently and have a presence about her that encourages others to respond to her?

I recently heard someone say that a true leader gives his or her followers the tools they need to become leaders in their leadership-skillsown right. This is a remarkably beautiful idea and the only way to accomplish this is when leaders and followers work hard to keep lines of communication open, remain transparent and encourage each other to hold fast to their responsibilities. Leaders like Harvey Milk, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gloria Steinem did just that. All three of these people were able to take an issue that was so personal to them and their communities and bring it to light for others who either were not aware of the problem or didn’t know how to find their power from within to make a difference. These three people may have used different methods to accomplish their goals, but they had two things in common: 1) they did it in a way that was peaceful and respectful to both their followers and the general public, and 2) they involved others in their community that otherwise would not have seen a reason to get involved.

While the issues they were fighting for may have been more imperative than what we are usually doing at the organizational level, the leadership traits they exhibited still hold true for everyone at every level. We will always need leaders that are capable of exhibiting compassion, strength, trust, and ethical behaviors, because at the end of the day, the rest of us mimic them. Furthermore, Harvey Milk, Martin Luther King Jr., and Gloria Steinem met with others who would otherwise have no stake in their cause and gave them reason to care. They did not use force or coercion to make their point (as many leaders inside organizations tend to do); they used logic. They met with constituents and explained the vision and meaning of their cause. They encouraged their followers to stand up and join them. More importantly, these three gave them power they otherwise may not have realized they had.

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How to Give Negative Feedback without Sounding like a Jackass

imagesYesterday I posted how to receive negative feedback without totally freaking out, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much I hate giving negative feedback, because, let’s face it, it isn’t easy. No one wants to come off sounding like a ruthless bastard, but at the same time, we want to make sure we get our point across. I figure if I’m feeling this way there are probably loads of others out there feeling the same way. So here you go! I hope this helps. If you have something to add, please let me know!

  1. ASK the recipient. Yes, you read that correctly. When there is something you’d like to tell another person first ASK if you can give them some feedback. This applies more so to friends and family than it does to employees. This does several things, obviously it gives the person an opportunity to say no, but it also gives the person a chance to mentally switch gears. If they say yes to your request they are now mentally prepared to hear what you have to say and they will likely be more willing to receive the feedback. If the person says no, you must be willing to say okay and move on. What’s the point in wasting your time and energy on something a person doesn’t want to hear? More often than not, a person will say yes.
  2. Put yourself in their shoes. If you were the one receiving feedback, what would you want to know? How would you want to be treated? Would you want it to be in front of others, or would you prefer it to be done privately?
  3.  Start off positive. Compliments start things off on the right foot and usually make people more prone to open up and listen to your feedback. But please don’t use the management sandwich, it tends to take away from the meat of your conversation (pun intended) and leave the receiver of feedback confused.
  4. Be specific. The more specific you are the better. Look at these two sentences, which one helps you fully understand the situation at hand? This white paper you’ve been working on really sucks, it’s so confusing! Or I’m having a difficult time following your line of thinking in Section II, can you expand on…?
  5. Uncover the root of the problem. You’ll give better feedback if you understand how the other person views the situation. Asking questions about their thought process, not only provides you with some perspective, but it can lead people to realize their own solutions and insights. If that does not happen, you have at the very least created an environment for open dialogue.
  6. LISTEN and respond accordingly. Some people will have a lot of questions they want answered. It’s your job to make sure you listen to those questions and answer them appropriately. Similarly, it is your job to listen to what the person is saying when they are answering YOUR questions.
  7. Don’t stockpile negative feedback. Try to give feedback in real-time or as soon as possible to avoid the stockpile. Changes in behavior are more easily achieved when negative feedback is administered in small doses. When managers stockpile problems, waiting for the right moment, employees can easily become overwhelmed.
  8. Don’t email negative feedback. People who have a hard time confronting others are often tempted to use email as a tool for negative feedback. Don’t. You can’t tell a person’s tone in an email so it’s easily misinterpreted. You could have meant something to come off as playful or joking, but to the reader it can come off as just plain mean.
  9. Define next steps. Agree on what is appropriate for the employee. If there are specific things the employee needs to start doing or needs to stop doing, be sure they are clearly identified. If there is something you need to do, perhaps additional training for the employee, agree on that as well.
  10. Get over it. Once it’s all over and a resolution has been agreed upon, move on. Don’t hover over them out of fear that they may make another mistake. Monitor their performance as you do all employees, but don’t obsess.
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How to Handle Negative Feedback and Three Reasons to Embrace It

negative-feedback

As I was thinking about writing this post, I thought it would be a good idea to ask some people who are real pro’s at receiving negative feedback. So I sent a quick text to a couple friends who are artists, asking them how they handle it.  I was struck by the response from friend of mine who is in art school right now. She told me that at school they have regular critiques. As part of their education as artists they learn must learn the vocabulary and behavior of a constructive, in-depth critique. They practice giving and receiving feedback and are graded on both, use of “non-words” like ‘cool’ or ‘I like it’ deducts points from your grade. They are learning something that everyone should learn in school, how to give and receive feedback.

Negative feedback can be tough to deal with sometimes. It’s so much easier to hear compliments than disagreements because it suggests we’re doing something wrong.

Unless you’re living under a rock, receiving negative feedback is part of life. So the question isn’t how can we avoid negative feedback, the question is how can we embrace it? Here are some tips for gracefully accepting negative feedback:

  1. Take a deep breath, and LISTEN: It’s natural to want to defend yourself immediately with a “You’re wrong… ”or “No, that’s because…” or “you just don’t get it…” But here’s the thing, no matter how negative the comment was, you have a choice in your reaction. Reacting defensively says more about you as a person than the negative comment does. Additionally, remaining calm and composed helps you deal with the feedback better. If you feel riled up, tell the person you need a moment to digest this new information, but would like to engage in a conversation shortly. This will give you some time to cool down before going further. If the feedback isn’t too bad, pause for a few seconds to allow your mind to process the feedback. Sometimes, the person giving the feedback may not be aware of the real areas of concern. He or she might say something like “I don’t think this is done well” or “I don’t like how you’re doing this”, without supporting reasons. This doesn’t mean you should dismiss the feedback, because something did trigger it. It’s up to you to probe the person and discover what the underlying issues are. Use active listening to help understand where he/she is coming from. Some questions to ask yourself include:
    • What is she concerned about? What are the key issues?
    • Why is he reacting this way?
    • What did I do or say that triggered this?
  2. Understand the Person’s Concerns: Realize that in most instances a person isn’t flat out telling you that you suck. That’s simply how you are interpreting it. Every piece of feedback, whether negative or positive, comes from somewhere. Something you said or did made the person react this way. You have a choice, you can either confront this head on, or choose to ignore the feedback, but then you’ll never know what triggered the person to respond. This means there’s a possibility this issue will recur in the future. Remember that thing our parents used to say to us about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes? Try that here. Imagine you as the person and think about how he/she felt. This will make it easier to understand why he/she commented that way. Whenever I do that, it instantly becomes clear why the person said the things he/she said, and helped me to understand his/her concerns.
  3. Respond kindly: This person took time to share his/her opinions with you (which probably wasn’t easy for them), take the time to give a proper reply. Generally, it’s best to use the following sequence:
    1. Reiterate the person’s concerns, and confirm you have summarized correctly to ensure you are on the same page.
    2. Create a space for peaceful and productive discussion by calmly sharing your point of view (whether you agree or disagree) along with supporting reasons why. Keep in mind it’s totally ok to agree to disagree on your differences of opinion.
    3. Agree on the conclusions and steps needed to move forward.
    4. Thank them for sharing.

As much as we all get a serious case agita from negative feedback, believe it or not, some good can actually come out of the whole experience:

  1. A learning experience! Negative feedback is a necessary component of improving your performance. The negative feedback you receive from most people is an opportunity to learn from what you’re doing, it’s an opportunity to make adjustments to what you’re doing in the future, and to produce better results. As difficult as it might seem, embracing negative feedback as a learning opportunity is the best and fastest way to improve your performance… as long as you’re ready to accept that feedback, learn from it, and make the necessary changes.
  2. Gain Insight. Problems happen. Sometimes it’s your fault, other times it’s beyond your control. Sometimes it’s not even a fault, but rather a problem of inflated expectations. Whatever, the case, wouldn’t you rather know when your customers, clients, employees, or employers are unhappy? Once you know what the problem is, you can work to improve it.Johari_Window
  3. Become a better person. There is a technique I learned about in grad school called the Johari window, that helps people better understand their relationship with self and others. Its basic premise is that every person can be represented by a window with four panes. One of those panes is called the “blind spot” where traits about you are known to others, but not to you. Some of those traits might be good, but some of them are not so great. Sometimes feedback may not make sense to you, and you may feel like it came from left field. If this happens, you now have an amazing opportunity to have an open dialogue about this (but ONLY if you can stay calm).  The point is we don’t always realize how we’re being perceived. Use this time as an opportunity to become a better person.

Finally, remember, practice makes perfect. It’s okay if you aren’t great at this right away. Don’t give up, you will succeed!

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Does Reflection Really Matter?

reflecting1

About a month ago I was on the train commuting home from work when I momentarily looked up from my game of Ninjump on my iPhone and saw everyone in the car had their noses in their phones or tablets. I think there were maybe 2 people with either an actual book or newspaper in their hand. No one was just sitting there, staring out the window and thinking. Which of course, got me to thinking. It was only few years ago that my commute into and out of New York City looked much different.  I used to sit on the train listening to my iPod, reading a good book or magazine; sometimes I stared off into space and contemplated just about anything, letting my music act as my  guide. I’d think about the day ahead of me, what I needed to accomplish, who I would speak with, what I would say. When I was feeling particularly studious I would think about something I read for class, jot down any questions or thoughts I may have had. Some days I’d let myself daydream about a better job, life in a warmer climate, being a rock star, or what it would be like to just pack up my belongings and move to a foreign country.

Then I got my iPhone and everything changed. It’s not the iPhone’s fault. It’s entirely mine. I had so much I could do right there at the tip of my fingers. I could check my email, surf the web, text friends, go on Facebook and still listen to my music! I’ve had my iPhone for about two years now and I’m just starting to realize the impact it’s had on my life. Sure, I have an infinite amount of information at my fingertips, but at what cost? I rarely sit and space out, and come to think of it, I really miss it. Where is my break? My train ride used to be my time to prepare for my day and decompress on the way home. It was my time to reflect on my day, to think about all the things that happened or didn’t happen. To digest and even discover how I felt about things, to learn from any mistakes I may have made, and to relish in my successes.

As I looked around the train car that day, I couldn’t help but think about these things and wonder: have we lost our desire to reflect? I tried to stealthily look at the phones and tablets of those around me. My husband was sitting next to me, reading an article from his Associated Press app, the majority of commuters were playing games, some were on Facebook, some were checking emails and appeared to be doing work and a few, like my husband, were reading. Reading is great. It gets your juices flowing, it makes you think. It makes your mind wander (or maybe that’s just me and my ADD) onto other things. But these silly mind-numbing games we’re playing instead of thinking is beginning to worry me. Why are we attracted to doing something so idle? I don’t know about the rest of you out there, but I really miss my commute being about me. It’s the one time during the day I get the chance, and I’m ruining it with games that don’t do anything for me.

Make no mistake, reflection isn’t only a great tool to use on a personal level. It’s also a great way for those in leadership positions to learn.  Just as I used this tool to learn from my mistakes so too can the leaders of today’s organizations. In fact, if you take the time to reflect on different aspects of your day, you will likely be a few steps ahead of your colleagues who do not.

Unfortunately, reflection holds little weight in the business world today. In fact, today’s accelerated pace in the workplace, has caused there to be a greater emphasis on a leader’s ability to react quickly to changes. While thinking quickly on your feet is certainly a valuable trait for a leader, it’s also important that you develop the habit of setting aside time during your day to reflect not only on current decisions your organization needs to make, but also to review previous mistakes to see what lessons your company can gain from that experience. My time to reflect is during my commute. But yours can be whenever is most convenient and comfortable for you. Maybe it’s while you eat breakfast or lunch. Maybe it’s not an internal process, and you prefer to reflect with a friend or loved one, or maybe you’d prefer keeping a journal. However you do it is up to you.

All this talk about reflection has made me really wonder what I have been missing out on or not realizing because I haven’t taken the time to reflect on my day. So, starting tonight, I am embarking on a new challenge. As soon as I finish this article, I am deleting all of the games from my phone. For the next two months (I like starting off small), my commute home will consist of music, reading, and a little introspection.  I will be sure to update you on my findings for how or if this changes me. If you’d like to join in on the challenge, please do.  I’d love to hear about what you’ve learned! Let’s do this together!!

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