We Ignore Individuality in Workplace Change. That’s Our First Mistake

I’ve been told that I’m not the best role model concerning change. To be brutally candid, I agree with the characterization. I tend to balk at the mere whiff of a change — holding on to hope that it won’t come to pass. (Then adjusting my course will not be necessary.) Honestly, it’s a problem. I do come around. However, I need to go through the paces in my own way.

As you may have read in this post, many of us can struggle with even the smallest of changes — muddling along until the “new normal” finally appears. Until that moment, we might feel annoyed and completely out of sync. I think we all have a ratio of stability vs. change that feels comfortable at that moment. (I feel stability is a vastly under-rated quality in work life).

For better or worse, my “go to” reaction is to keep things frozen, until carefully considering every aspect of the situation.

Unfortunately, holding time at bay usually isn’t an option.

Regardless of my failings, I acknowledge the value of flexing our workplace “change muscles”. However, knowing ourselves is likely the first place to begin when building this skill set. I believe that we all have a leading predisposition when faced with change at work — and this represents both our collected experiences and temperament. Of course, this influences our strategies when reacting to change as well. That’s where things get tricky.

We need to come to an understanding of where we begin and recognize how this affects our responses going forward.

If you manage others, think of what this might mean for your team. When facing a needed change, as individuals we are staggered in our starting posts, so to speak. As a result, we progress at different rates — with varying concerns. Managers are challenged to explore these concerns and pose strategies to help the process move along (ever mindful that resistance could signal issues with a change or how it is introduced).

Overall, the realization that we tend toward one predisposition or another, is a crucial step. We might moderate slightly with the nature of the change — but we all lean one way or another.

Here are some of the predispositions I’ve observed over the years:

  • Piners or Grievers. These individuals lament the coming of change, even when it is inevitable or necessary. They may grieve for the roles, policies, procedures and co-workers of days gone by. They do move on eventually — but often with decreased fulfillment, satisfaction and an obvious measure of sadness.
  • Researchers. An unbridled penchant to gather information is the leading response for this group — as looking at the issue from all angles often helps them move on. Unfortunately, a leading by-product is “analysis paralysis”. Another issue: time may not be a negotiable. (This would be where I fall, although I pine at the very start.)
  • Supporters/Embracers. These individuals are generally open to change and feel excited to contemplate the future. They may not always be the primary driver of change (but could be), yet are happy to see the possibilities and help things move forward.
  • Alarmists. For these individuals an impending change triggers intense feelings of urgency. This could lead to premature or risky career behaviors that negatively affect them longer-term. (Such as quitting on a whim, etc.)
  • Dreamers. This group always manages to see the best in the current situation, even when there is overwhelming evidence to move on and accept some kind of change. (I would add there is a mild level of complacency operating here). Because of this perspective, they might miss opportunities to properly plan a place for themselves in the new “order” of things.
  • Observers. Usually quiet and calm, these individuals take a solid “wait and see” approach. They rarely panic — and prefer to watch things unfold organically. They might superficially support the change, but may eventually exit if the change is perceived as negative.
  • Aggressors or Terminators. These individuals feel anger when they are faced with an unexpected change. They may become a strong “naysayer”, vehemently opposing a change and could exhibit negative behaviors without reflection.

After I drafted these, I searched for other frameworks that might capture how we process change. I happened upon the Kubler-Ross Change Curve which applies the seminal model of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross concerning grief, to change efforts within organizations. (This theory states that we all move through specified phases when dealing with change, rather than identifying a leading emotion that we deal with over time.) I thought it wise to mention it here.

Where do you fall? Have I missed your leading orientation toward change? Share your style in comments.

A version of this was first posted on

What’s Next in 2017? It’s the Year to Master the New “Normal”​

Our beloved Krups coffee maker decided it would brew its last wonderful cup of coffee this week. That might not sound like much to you. However, I assure you — to the finicky beings that are my taste buds, it is. I loved that coffeemaker. Each day it brewed the perfect cup of coffee that would sustain me through many a morning meeting or assessment report.

However, I had no choice in the matter. Done. Kaput.

So, I reluctantly charged off in search of an identical replacement. The same machine was no longer available. (What? Really? Why have you messed with success?)

Change is hard. Even the small ones.

When change unceremoniously arrives in the workplace — all sorts of havoc can ensue. A little like my coffee machine dilemma, we’re not often consulted when these changes occur. Whether you are absorbing an industry shift, anticipating a new boss, a revised performance rating system or company-wide reorganization, change is always challenging. (I’ve been there. I’ve lived through lay-offs, sudden resignations and client shake-ups. I’ve also helped teams move through these very same challenges.)

Embracing change is another story — and this is difficult for most of us. On some level, we feel a bit entitled to the status quo (see more on that here), which can create real career obstacles for us.

So, let’s try a different strategy:

The New Normal: The current state of being after some dramatic change has transpired. What replaces the expected, usual, typical state after an event occurs. The new normal encourages one to deal with current situations rather than lamenting what could have been.

On some level, we simply must construct — or wait for — that “new normal” to emerge. So, while you are waiting for that “new normal” to unfold, here are a few things to consider:

  • Build resilience. Modern career paths require the ability to “bounce back” after change. This often involves looking at situations differently, which can be very difficult to do when under stress. Interestingly, recent research has shown that this is a skill we can learn.
  • Embrace a “Growth Mindset”. Sometimes we feel that we can’t bridge the chasm from where we are — and where we need to go. (See Jeff Immelt’s career advice on the topic here.) So adopt the mindset that you can adapt and learn. The work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck offers us hope. (See her TED Talk here.)
  • Embrace the need for the change. While uncomfortable, long careers demand that we appreciate and recognize precipitating factors. Organizations evolve. Customers shift. In some cases, the need to revise our course is inevitable.
  • We can maintain our identity. Remember, the qualities you personally value and bring to the table can remain — even in the midst of change. Don’t immediately assume that revisions to your work life will entirely derail you or force you to become less of a contributor (in your own eyes).
  • Try to learn more, then decide. With any change, learning more about what is about to happen can alleviate accompanying fear and anxiety. Complete a reference check on your new supervisor. Ask for the expanded explanation as to why that new procedural change is necessary. You may find a little peace.
  • Ignore the “naysayers”. The last thing you need is an individual who isn’t going to give the emerging situation one iota of a chance. Be mindful of the reactions around you and inoculate yourself against the negativity that might be spreading. It’s really not wise to borrow additional trouble.
  • Give it time. Once the changes occur, offer the situation time to settle. Some of the initial bumps that pop up do work themselves out. There is a period of “re-calibration” that must occur. Once that is complete, a clearer picture may surface. You may actually like a bit of what you see. If not, you can consider an alternative course.
  • Look for the up-side. Change often opens the door for more change — and there could be opportunities lurking there. If you have a new supervisor, for example, they may just be the person willing to listen to the pile of ideas you’ve carefully stored.

I hope you discover your “new normal” quickly. Meanwhile, our new (and improved) Krups #KM7508 12-cup programmable coffee machine sits on our counter. It has big shoes to fill.

I’ll have to admit, today it brewed a pretty mean cup of coffee.

Is change difficult for you?

How would you describe your behavior in the face of a change? What are your coping strategies?

Author’s Note: I’ll be exploring the notion of change and resilience in upcoming posts. I hope you’ll join the conversation.

Another note: This post previously appeared at my blog The Office Blend.

Have You Met the 21st Century Employee?

While resistance to change continues to be alive and well in many organizations, the world is changing every day. We are in a time when entire economies, organizations and industries are transforming. And yet, we use antiquated organizational change management practices in our 21st century world. The biggest change leaders need to make is to have clarity on the shared purpose of their organization and how to deliver on it in a simple way where employees understand their roles.

Change is inevitable. And what is needed is a total mindset change and not a program that can be delegated to a team to do on behalf of the senior executive team. Today, we need less sponsors of change programs and more owners. We need a generation of leaders who understand why change is important to the business and their accountability to implementing it. We need to get back to business basics and stop this insanity. It will save organizations a lot of money in the long run. The question leaders need to be asking themselves today is does your organization know how to transform as the needs of your customers change?

And we need leaders with a new mindset

The 21st century leader needs to view themselves as a connector and community builder as they will need to bring the best people to solve problems; regardless of whether they are employees, contractors, consultants or partners. They will also need to break down the walls between functions and select ideas that can be converted to what their customers wants and need and get paid for it. And having the right leader is key to taking an idea to market. Organizations will need to define their most critical projects around their products and services and be aware of how many real leaders they have who can deliver results. Why have 56 projects running in your organization if there are only 7 real leaders who can bring them to the marketplace? It goes way beyond a title on a business card. In the 21st century, organizations need a 21st century leader:

Why is this important?

There is one main reason: you don’t want to be left behind and have your business become irrelevant. I’ve already shared my thoughts around 21st century leadership in an earlier post, and we now need to understand the mindset of the 21st century employee.

What do we need to know about today’s employees?

If you want to understand the 21st century employee, you have to understand the new human (aka the new consumer). This is the first time in the history of work where we have more access to technology tools that give each of us a voice outside the corporate walls. In our daily life, we can each search for the best restaurants and hotels and read other people’s online reviews. We can also add our own when we have a great experience and more often, when we have a terrible one. Outside the work environment, we have a voice and can share our feelings whenever we want.

Too often, this changes when we come to work where we cannot express our voice openly as there are processes and procedures that dictate how employees are allowed to communicate. Many employees have inboxes overflowing with emails trying to push us to communicate in the online collaborative space and we can give feedback once a year in the annual employee survey. We don’t have the ability to have open, ongoing conversations because we are so busy being governed by the Google or Outlook calendar monster that takes us from meeting to meeting every day. And we ask ridiculous questions like should our employees be our brand ambassadors? Why would you not want your employees to have a voice and pride in what they do? Who better to convey the passion and purpose of your organization in the world?

How have we lost so much common sense when it comes to business? It’s time to get it back and have an understanding of the 21st century employee and why change is inevitable as it will start coming from the people who show up at work. Organizations that understand that this century is about collaboration and co-creation leave fear and scarcity behind, to pursue opportunities by creating new markets, services and/or products. They will also kill the annual employee survey and re-institute ongoing conversations and feedback into their very fabric.

This is how 21st Century Employees shows up at work:


Meaning: Pursues their lifework 

“If one wanted to crush and destroy a man entirely, to mete out to him the most terrible punishment,” wrote Dostoevsky, “all one would have to do would be to make him do work that was completely and utterly devoid of usefulness and meaning.”

The 21st century employee shows up as one person. She doesn’t buy into the work-life balance myth as she looks at how does her work fit into her life. She has an understanding of who she is and the impact she wants to have in the world. And this is not just about the Millennial generation and younger people. This employee also includes older generations who are now redefining success and realizing that working 24/7 is no longer tenable or desirable. An increasing number of people are currently questioning their relationship with work and are starting to pick themselves, which is why 50% of US workers will be free agents by 2020. People will no longer need to retire if they are doing their life’s work. They might choose to do something different but they won’t need to plan their escape from a job as work will just be part of our lives.

Meaning becomes far more important, which means there is a need to have a clear understanding of the organization’s purpose and how your employees can help achieve it. Authentic two-way communication becomes critical. There will be less canned messaging and more leaders who can inspire teams to achieve shared goals. The world for the 21st century employee is not pursuing the myth of work-life balance but doing their life’s work, which means how does work fit into our lives?

Choice: Has a voice inside and outside the organization

The 21st century employee wants to share his voice. We still need a level of governance and policies to protect the organization, especially in highly regulated environments, but instead of asking silly questions like should our employees be brand ambassadors, leaders tap into the collective expertise of  the people they spent months hiring and on-boarding and now retaining. The 21st century employee has a mindset of abundance. He knows that there are many opportunities for himself and for the organization because he is no longer confined by fear and scarcity. There is enough. The 21st century employee has a strong desire to make, do and create and be part of something bigger than himself.

In the 21st century, employees don’t wait to be picked; they pick themselves. Because they have an increasing amount of choice. When a person is doing their lifework, they are no longer governed by fear of losing their job. Over the next decade, for example, we will see more people taking vacation days and respecting themselves rather than the crisis we are witnessing today, where $54B in vacation was unused due to fear in 2013. When we have a choice and can express it, we have a voice. This new employee is  looking to be part of organizations that thrive on conversations and collaboration and bring the outside in.

Harmony: Collaborates and co-creates with others

There will still be plenty of jobs where people can be independent in their work. But as organizations start focusing on the key problems and opportunities they need to address to be successful, they will need to bring people together to deliver on them. The 21st century employee understands that being part of something bigger than her is going to be more personally fulfilling. She has a strong desire to collaborate and co-create with others. She understands that innovation is not a department but a way to experiment on what’s possible with others. Just take a look at how Theranos disrupted the $70B blood testing industry with a new business model.

Organizations will need to re-think how they measure success. While many messages that are being shared today are about the team, the metrics that measure success are still based on individual performance. There is a need to radically transform the performance review process from an annual, individualized process to one that helps people deliver shared purpose and measure shared goals. Your collaborative goals will not be achieved if you don’t infuse new ways of working that allow for true collaboration.

Network: Has a robust connected community

There is a big difference between a connected network and a trusted community. A network includes people you are connected to who you may not have deep relationships with, where a community includes people you trust and who trust you and usually has a common purpose.

Because the 21st century employee has a voice and wants to create, he has a robust network of people to tap into both inside and outside of the organization. One of the main reasons we were able to position Cisco Canada as the number two revenue generating country for the company in 2012 was because our strategy focused on the deep relationships our employees had in key communities. The 21st century employee shows up at work with existing connections and builds new ones. He wants to tap into his network and work within trusted communities and not organizational departments. Organizations that get it know how to build thriving online communities where employees can work and co-create.

Co-creates: Learns through dialogue

Many organizations are looking for ways to motivate employees who are seeking meaning in their work. From accountants to product development managers in large organizations, the search for purpose is everywhere. Co-creation projects are a powerful way to ensure employee satisfaction. More of us will see our working lives structured around short-term project based teams and more of a “Hollywood model,” where a team comes together and works as long as is needed and then disbands. Just like making a movie and bringing the best director, costume designer and editors, organizations will need to bring the best people with complimentary skills to co-create.

Often, these projects will be complex and will need more dialogue to get everyone up-to-speed on what needs to get done. This works for the 21st century employee who learns from co-creating with others through dialogue. Like the movie and television business, storytelling becomes much more important in the future of work as sharing of information quickly becomes key.

Impact: Cares locally, regionally and globally

An increasing number of employees want to see the impact their organization is making in their local community and the world. Millennials, relative to older generations, are all about giving back to communities that align with their core values and they are asking hard questions like where does the organization source its products and what does it do for the community? And we don’t talk enough about the shift that is taking place with all generations in the workforce, a reconnection to impact. The 21st century employee wants not only to have meaning and impact in the work he does, he also wants that impact measured.

Today, most organizations use antiquated measures for success that measure activity and do not track the impact. It’s usually an after-thought to figure out if we what we did had the results we aspired to. We spend energy on the new technology that needs to be implemented by a certain date and don’t necessarily track its impact and then we wonder why it was not successful. If we have leaders who have a mindset of measuring impact, we will attract and retain the 21st century employee who is seeking value in his contributions. The beauty of technology is that it allows us to live in an open and connected world where we can build new communities and it also has made us increasingly conscious that we have a responsibility to our local, regional and global world. The new employee brings these beliefs to work and wants to work for organizations that make a difference. And it’s an opportunity for private sector organizations to find new ways to market by co-creating unusual partnerships across sectors on the edge.

Mobile: Wants flexibility and personalization

The 21st century employee is mobile where the devices simply allow them to connect anytime, anywhere. Mobile is not just a technology anymore; it’s a way of life and work for the 21st century employee who wants flexibility and personalization. And yet many organizations take a transactional view of mobile and think about it as a technological device or remote working.

Leaders need to truly understand the opportunity that mobile provides and its importance in creating the future of work in the “Hollywood model.” New technologies like Enterprise 2.0 solutions need to be integrated in how we work so those conversations can take place outside the scheduled meetings where work actually happens. Video becomes increasingly important in the future of work in connecting us through conversations. Organizations that can tap into employees anywhere and connect them through video will be the ones 21st century employees will thrive in. Imagine the impact of reducing carbon footprint with being allowed your work in a mobile environment. And imagine a mobile workforce that has impact in the organization and the community. This is the new canvass we should be painting together.

Are you ready?

The 21st organization needs to be created. We need to move away from antiquated  management practices so we can tap into the hearts and minds of people who want to do their lifework. As a futurist, my job is to analyze trends and prepare leaders for what’s coming in the world of work and life. I hope this article helped you start thinking about what you are doing and the shifts you need to make. I look forward to having conversations on this. And I leave you with one question: “are you ready?”

This post was first published on blog.