My Agile Awakening – an Adventure towards Cultural Agility

About 6 years ago I first starting consciously noticing the Agile word coming up in many of my professional social feeds. I think it had been popping up before then, but the volume of its presence became more noticeable to me at this time. In total honesty the word scared me for several reasons.


I was afraid

The first reason was my fear of the unknown. I didn’t really know what it was, and I’ve always been someone who prides myself on being current and up to date on terms, approaches and the like. This was something I didn’t really know a lot about and what I did know added a secondary fear. I knew it was something from software development and back in the dark ages when I was a Mathematics undergrad student, I never got on well with my software development courses – I did what was required but it wasn’t the same comfort zone as the rest of my courses. Thirdly I have never wanted to be at the back of the line for something new, and I physically felt myself slipping back on this Agile thing! In reflection I was afraid of the unknown and yet I was also afraid of the known, or at least my known. Not a good place to start.

During 2013 my curiosity began to get the better of me. I was working at a location anchored in a traditional waterfall project management mindset, in fact they weren’t doing that very well, and I was frustrated by this among other things. So I started exploring and spent the next 12-18 months trying to get my head around this Agile thing that people were talking about. My rapid learning was fueled first by the musings of Jason Little and his Lean Change Agent book, then my mind double flipped with the 2015 Spark the Change Conference in Toronto, and a particular shout out to Riina Heldström who was at that Spark conference and made me ignite my mind to Agile beyond software and PM where she talked Agile HR and my thoughts raced through “of course, isn’t it bleeding obvious” through to “why am I stuck fighting against what is so f**ked up here”?

a gauntlet

the proverbial gauntlet

Anyone that knows me well, knows that this is throwing down the gauntlet to me. And my Agile adventure began. An accelerating learning curve over the last year or two has brought me to the place I’m at now. I’ve learned about elements of the practice, from scrums and huddles, to product-based ownership and customer centric drivers. I’ve learned how people practice it in a way that some think is wrong, and others think is right (isn’t this true for every business practice?) I connected my background and experience in the lean six sigma activity and operational excellence. I looked at the manifesto and then researched the multiple operational translations of the manifesto. I dug and dug until my brain was ready to go pop!

I discovered that there is a kind of hard Agile focused on project management, product development and all things connected to physical delivery. Then there is a softer, almost “agile agile” anchored in mindset, values and behaviours. This latter is where I emphatically gravitated, demonstrating agility in the workplace, with people and their thinking, no doubt heavily influenced by my change management background. I guess I would call it cultural agility in my head and I felt happy in this space.

Rich looking happy

I felt happy

I have continued my learning journey in Agile and discovered some really cool people with thoughts and ideas in the space – my thanks go to recent contributors Sarika Kharbanda and Evan Leybourne (do check out the Business Agility Institute) As with all disciplines, I’ve unfortunately found some people who have an arrogance about the practice – unless you have this cert or that qualification, you don’t know what you are talking about – but I’ve had that in every area I’ve been exposed to over time and let it slip by. I’m now reflecting on so much activity I’ve done over the years that has had an agile ethos about it, leadership styles, HR practices, business improvement activities, even my strong desire to only do what is needed, not what people would like… I think I’m a convert, I just don’t think I have a label for what I’ve converted to … I think I’m going to go with cultural agility as a label, for something I don’t think I really want to label.

Eight Lessons Learned as I Reflect on 2017

As I come to the end of the year I have chosen to reflect back on the journey I’ve navigated, the people I’ve engaged with and look to adventures that await me in 2018 as part of a series of learning opportunities that have presented themselves to me.

Professionally it’s been an amazing experience. I’ve continued to engage with great clients, locally and abroad. Some with a purpose close to my heart, finding their potential and supporting them through their own change journeys. My first learning moment of the year came when I realised that although I need financial reward for my endeavours I place equal value on making a difference and releasing other’s potential. This part of the value I place when deciding to begin an engagement.

My first learning moment ... I place equal value on making a difference and releasing other's potential

It was only in 2015 I launched the Capillary Learning offerings. My desire to get people thinking change, rather than just regurgitating a process, led to the Certified Change Agent (CCA) credential that has now been experienced by over 200 people. Learning point two came this year as I reaffirmed my desire to share knowledge with others hungry to learn.

Learning point two ... I reaffirmed my desire to share knowledge with others hungry to learn. Curiosity has continued to be a part of my very existence. Thanks to my sparring partner, Nik Beeson, I've kept challenging and questioning and we've done some great workshops this year with curiosity and now have a Meetup group of over 500 members. My fourth learning came from these, sometimes less is more. I learned that small workshop groups can have the most profound discussions and it truly is more important to have quality over quantity for workshop attendees.

My third learning came on the back of this, I have to take my enthusiasm and the CCA to new people in new places, so London, England is on the 2018 list and more Canadian cities too!

My third learning ... I have to take my enthusiasm and the CCA to new people in new places

Curiosity has continued to be a part of my very existence. Thanks to my sparring partner, Nik Beeson, I’ve kept challenging and questioning and we’ve done some great workshops this year with Curiosity Culture and now have a Meetup group of over 500 members. My fourth learning came from these, sometimes less is more. I learned that small workshop groups can have the most profound discussions and it truly is more important to have quality over quantity for workshop attendees.

My fourth learning ... small workshop groups can have the most profound discussions and it truly is more important to have quality over quantity

I’ve been coaching a number of great executives and leaders in their organization. I love to get the “aha!” moment and I’ve truly heard it and seen it with many of these clients. Learning number 5 came directly from these experiences – you should always be learning! I have committed myself to learn at least one new tool, technique or skill every year from now on.

Learning number 5 ... you should always be learning! I have committed myself to learn at least one new tool, technique or skill every year from now on.

I began applying this learning point, when I finally got to do the big Lego® Serious Play® course I’ve wanted to do for some time. I did a short course several years back but it never lit a spark in me but now I’ve done the 40 hour version I have been inspired to reconnect and 2017 certainly saw me involved in some great Lego inspired actives including incorporation of it into the CCA. Learning item six is not writing something off because it didn’t work in one format or style, everything deserves another chance.

Learning item six ... not writing something off because it didn't work in one format or style, everything deserves another chance. 

I’ve had some great speaking gigs in 2017. In Texas and Chicago I let loose with the Lego and Berlin Change Days was a performance I shall remember for some time! I’ve presented to 200+ and 15 in a room and thoroughly enjoyed both extremes. My key learning here, number 7, is to remember self care. Surprising to most I’m a natural introvert and I need to remember that these events take a lot out of my energy bank, so I should find the time to recharge and recover.

My key learning here, number 7, is to remember self care

My final, eighth learning point builds on the self care. Appreciate the communities you are part of and let them be there for you. 2017 saw me end my time leading the Toronto Chapter of the ACMP and letting go can be hard, as Bill Bridges will confirm and I’m definitely embracing the new zone now. I have many great connections in the change space and I thank you all for the great conversation, thought provoking comments and insights into the field I’d never normally think. Learning point 8 is be grateful for the support of others – Thank you!

Learning point 8 is be grateful for the support of others - Thank you

Leadership & Change – Part 3: The Personal Journey

What the heck does it personally mean to be a leader? To be someone who demonstrates leadership? How do you get there? Is it a natural born trait or a developed skill? Can anyone be a leader? In this third part of the series, I want to explore the individual leadership role.

Let’s begin with confirming my definition of a leader. A leader is someone who demonstrates leadership qualities. That may sound “damn obvious” to many, but it needs to be said. Let me explain. In many cases the leader role is labeled to indicate its position and the owner’s level of organizational power that aligns with that label. The role may say Director, Senior manager, Vice President or Chief Operations Officer; and there are many more labels you could probably name; and the expectation (often just a hope) is that the person in this role demonstrates leadership qualities. As we all know, this is not always the case!

Manager vs leader

I use this cartoon when I do my CCA® program to demonstrate the difference between leadership and management and it has relevance for this post. Although I don’t agree 100% with all the statements on either side, it gives a good essence of each area. Take a moment to reflect on the words you see and how you might interpret their presence within each side.

The title of the cartoon leads me nicely into the core of my discussion: Manager vs Leader – which is your best position or role? Have you taken a self evaluation moment to consider which is your better role? You can do this simply by considering the things you enjoy doing (which are usually where you are willing to invest time). Where do these sit in the graphic or the general essence of each of these roles above? Be honest, are these management or leadership activities?

  • Do you prefer to be task focused or people focused?
  • Are you someone who provides guidance or likes to instruct?
  • What is your natural tendency and comfort space for risk taking?

I want to make one thing very clear – ITS OK TO BE A MANAGER. Without great managers, many things would never get done. We need managers. Although I personally prefer leadership to management, its not about there being a competition to be a leader and not be a manager. The goal is not that everyone becomes a leader. Too many organizations are making this assumption and giving greater credibility to leaders and belittling the manager role, placing expectations on the manager to be a leader without the support, competence or basic alignment to the role.

Lego LeadershipWe’ve all had those eye rolling moments, when a new and/or ill-fitting leader is trying to demonstrate their forced leadership skills. It often comes via control, fear, threats and other equally negative activities. This demonstrates that they are probably natural managers who are not doing well in their new leadership position, but because of the bureaucracy of the organization around them, they are now cornered into taking this role on, whether it’s a good fit or not. They may have a myriad of leaders that also use these techniques so the only example available to them is to follow suit.

Now this is where my challenge to individuals and organizations comes into play. I ask you as the person, or you as the employer to assess leadership capability in an accurate way.

self awareOn an individual level, this means demonstrating your Emotional Intelligence or EQ and being honest again. If you can develop sufficient self awareness you can recognize when you are doing a bad job as a leader. Recognition is not the same as responding to it. This is the time for courage, to say “this isn’t for me” and find a pathway back or forward into the managerial role you are best suited to undertake. If its not for you, then don’t go there, you will regret it. If your organization is encouraging you to go there, consider if you have the potential to move there, but need the support to get there. Which takes me to …

On an organizational level, if you recognize potential or want to move a manager into a leadership role, then you need to give them the support systems to enable their competence to grow accordingly. If they are not “leadership competent”, continuing to push forward down that pathway will make them and all around you more and more emotionally instable. Its not a good place to be and both physical and mental health will likely suffer! Develop leadership mentoring schemes, educational support programs and competency frameworks to enable the new and developing leaders to realise their potential.

My final summary comments for this post are these two statements.

  • Recognize yourself as a manager or a leader and recognize each for their contribution not as a competition.
  • Encourage organizations to develop their leaders, not just anoint/appoint them!

Capillary consulting offers a number of leadership development opportunities – robust programs and focused coaching opportunities. Get in touch to see how we can help you and your organization.

Leadership & Change – Part 2: Leadership teams, egos and humblebragging

I’ve faced several challenges writing this second article in the series about leadership and change. To fully explore this next area, I’m going to need to say some things that many “leaders” don’t like to hear. However, I think its right that I pose these challenges as recognition is the first step in a cultural movement away from these failings. I will try an put positive light where I can but you can be the judge on the balance I’ve given to each side of this equation.

I shall begin exploring “the leadership team”. In most organizations, this will be those at the top of the tree in the power and influence hierarchy. The ultimate team in charge – typically the “C-suite” or similar. This “top team” as I shall call them, are easily defined using the phrase “the buck stops here”. Now that last quoted phrase takes me nicely into my challenge with such leadership teams – Accountability.

true leadershipAs stated in my previous article, the position of leadership and the attributes of leadership are not one and the same. Many want to have the title but don’t want to take the accountability or responsibility that it requires. Discovering that they are expected to act strategically, make important decisions and retain a level of organizational authority can be a surprise to many; frequently rejecting such requirements or at a minimum, taken with immense reluctance and not very effectively. Recent news about leadership style at Uber, may be good evidence of this inability to take on this professional leadership role successfully, but I don’t want to spend paragraphs on that disaster!

In my opinion, there are three types of leaders and they are all present in the top team.

  1. Those that have taken the role because they want the importance, to stroke personal ego and feel special on a personal level. Let’s call these blimps – puffed up, sitting high in the organization but with no real ground lines.
  2. Those that are lost and frightened by the role, jumping aimlessly from one thing to another, hoping not to look too stupid and praying to have something click sometime. We can refer to these as puppies, jumping about without meaning to harm anyone, but not capable of being a fully functioning adult and understanding the expectations of the role professionally within the organization (think Uber again).
  3. Those that embrace responsibility, lead by example and understand how to empower and enable their organization to succeed through clear and considered direction. These are the true leaders, who demonstrate leadership in every way possible.

What is the balance of each in your leadership team? If there are more combined blimps and puppies than true leaders, its won’t be the best performing leadership team – and you will most definitely know it! Sometimes the sheer determination of true leaders can overcome the drag of the others to push forward what is needed, but emotionally this is very draining on the energy levels of said true leaders. If not it’s a constantly disagreeing group that never does anything productive enough to take the organization forward and may drive out the true leaders to seek alternative roles with other organizations.

blimpsBlimps are difficult leaders to work with. They inflate themselves with self importance, feeding a need to feel vital to the organization, but see their role as more about who will do the job for them rather than doing anything themselves. They are figurehead leaders who probably have instinctive command and control approaches, and readily farm out all their real work to others, badly using delegation and empowerment as cover words for their dumping. In organizations where promotion and professional expertise is measured by appearance, sweet talking and externalized displays (peacocking) then these people quickly rise to the top. They are those that talk the talk but never walk it. There is very little that can be done to educate these people and prevention is the best cure. Preventing them requires the culture of the organization to change and that can be a whole scale change initiative in itself.

puppiesThe puppies are those that somehow landed in a leadership position. They often refer to themselves as managers or senior managers because this is where their approaches lie. They landed in a leadership position because nobody else would take it, or they got rapidly promoted within the organization, potentially because of technical or managerial skills but never assessed on leadership competency. These people can be seen as victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes they are victims of lazy managers and leaders who rather than work to develop their skills, want the quick fix of “if in doubt, promote them out”. In a leadership position, they are a fish out of water. They may have some management capability, but that’s as good as it gets.  Unfortunately, puppies are poorly supported, and although they may have the potential to become really great leaders, they are not given the development, mentoring or other support mechanisms and just expected to “hit the ground running”. Without true leadership development programs, these people are destined to fail.

Now beyond the “top team” we can see leaders throughout the organization fitting into these three groupings and demonstrating success or otherwise within each category. The team led by each of these types, become a microcosm of the leadership style. The blimp, does little work, delegates everything and reminds everyone how important their position is. They may even do this with the humblebrag approach “I don’t know if it was my leadership, but we really got the results on that sale….”; “its not for me to say we are amazing, but the results speak for themselves” – you get the idea. The puppies are just trying their best to perform and hoping that they can fake it till they make it.

We really need to have a better way of getting the right people into these positions and supporting those that are placed here. We hiring structures to reflect leadership competence as a demonstrated behaviour – not assess it by a list of titles previously held. To have truly great leadership in organizations, we need to have development and support mechanisms to enable those in leadership roles to truly release their potential while embracing the responsibilities that go with that role.

Capillary Consulting offers a range of leadership development opportunities that can be tailored to the needs of your organization. Let’s discuss how we can help your puppies, prevent your blimps and support your true leaders.

Coming next … Leadership & Change 3: Stick or twist? Navigating the personal journey.

Leadership & Change – Part 1: The Leadership Word

leadership1Leadership is not about a title. Individuals may be appointed, anointed or otherwise installed in positions of power, authority and decision making but that doesn’t mean they are able to exercise true leadership. It isn’t a competence that plugs in by virtue of the situation.

When I challenge myself to define leadership I often find a struggle within myself. The difficulty is that we have leadership positions a plenty but I rarely see the individuals in these roles demonstrate leadership qualities. Yet conversely, I see great leadership within organizations as individual contributors demonstrate qualities far an above those in positions meant to lead them through their daily needs.

What do I mean by leadership qualities? It’s a very difficult thing to define in just a few lines but I’m expecting at least to see the following qualities:

  • Strategic thinking
  • Empowerment, enablement and divested responsibilities
  • Respect
  • Influence without malice
  • People who follow with purpose
  • Integrity
  • Curiosity
  • Decision making
  • Embracing challenge as opportunity

These are all qualities that would encourage others to look up to the person and aspire to their values and there are probably at least ten times as many more words that I could offer as well.

Whatever set of qualities you use to scope out expectations of leadership they will always beg and answer to the eternal question – are leaders born or made?

To answer that question, I pose an alternate question to consider – can individuals grow and develop leadership qualities? If you believe and accept this is possible, then leaders can definitely be made.

Now I do not underestimate the instinct of many people who have a level of innate leadership. I believe there are many people who are by default significantly far along the path to demonstrated leadership; people who have shown themselves successfully manoeuvering a way through related leadership roles and delivering time and again. However, there are those who need the support, education and opportunity to become leaders, where a leader is an individual who naturally shows authentic leadership qualities.

Leadership2Leadership must be recognized as a continuum of competence. Some people are at zero on the scale and will struggle to move up the dial. Some people have that base level in the low numbers, and have potential to reach a higher capability, with strong support, development and mentoring. Then there are those that start high up the dial and can develop into outstanding leaders. Perhaps it’s the frequency, effort and instinct in applying the leadership that is the measure of a persons starting point on the continuum.

Which ever way you look at this leadership word, there is a range of evidence and a broad base of demonstrated application. The key takeaway here is that leadership is not a title but a behavioural competence that can be fed, grown and matured in almost everyone – if they have the capacity to take it on.

Next time: Leadership and Change Part 2: Leadership teams, egos and humblebragging

Capillary Consulting offers a range of Leadership focused intervention activities for organizations. Read about them here

Brain Bursting in Berlin

I’ve recently returned from the great Berlin Change Days event. An awesome couple of days over a weekend focused on exploring the art of disruption, with lots of arts and lots of disruption from people, places and the insights they bring.

I’ve been following the evolution of Berlin Change Days over the years with eager anticipation as to when I would make the trip. Ironically given that I had to move from the UK to Canada, to put myself in the position to attend.

explosionI had prepared myself for a heart, soul, ego and more to be twisted, turned and shaken inside out. This would be a group of people who spoke my language but were equally capable of keeping me true to my own self exploration of change and disruption.

I’m honoured that Nik Beeson and I had the opportunity to deliver our Disruption & Dis-Chord session on the first night and get a group of attendees clapping and conjugating the relationship of disruption to change through the analogy of beats. I won’t spoil the content for those that may attend or experience a future session but I pose this thought to you: Culture of an organization is its heartbeat – how do you travel to the new beat of the business heart when a disruption occurs?

I’ve always believed that the best change facilitators have a fluid connection between their creative and analytical sides. Connecting emotion and logic for the benefit of navigating a pathway forward. Its partly reflected in my own company name having a human and scientific reference (see capillary motion for the scientific reference). This conference brought that in loud and clear for me to experience and see others joyfully enthuse over.

Sessions used creative art, music, movement, dance, improvisation and many more incursions within the world of the liberal and creative arts to see disruption. We even started by putting disruption in trial with some awesome for and against arguments as to its “buzzword” multiple usage.

As I’ve said before, with any conference the depth can be measured by the side conversations and when you realize that your conversation has moved into international development being supported through pathways of choice – you truly are freeing your intellect to respond in its best way. I loved sharing my insights of curiosity and I loves being able to discuss the geographic perception differences of change management, leadership and organizational development.

Thank you everyone for massaging my synapses, challenging me and making me see with so many different lenses and making me part of the family. Thank you to Holger, Inge and the team, Berlin Change Days is my best conference ever and I look forward to many more!

If you attended, what were your thoughts, takeaways or insights of the experience?

Thanks to the participants at our workshop below…


The Double Layer Conference

brainpathI attended the ACMP Regional Conference Canada in Toronto just over a week ago. It’s probably taken that much time for me to let the content sink in, my brain to digest it and to make sense of the many conversations that abound at such gatherings. Any conference is more than the presentations, its second layer is the connections with other minds, thoughts and insights. I’m so pleased to see this gaining traction at more and more similar events.

With around 200 people in attendance, it was a great learning and thinking experience. I love my change management conversations and my personal highlight was facilitating 53 fellow attendees in an exploration of Change Management: where next? This for me was an experience that not only confirmed the depth of passion we have for growing the field and exploring the opportunities it brings forward but it confirmed the themes that were the foundation stones of the conference in my view.

double-rainbowProbably the most common theme was AGILE. Beyond the Agile project management approach this was truly the use of the verb to be agile. Underscoring some great presentations from people like Jason Little and Sean and Hashmeen at RBC were the conversations around being agile in approaching change. Organizations that want flexibility within their staff and their required learning need to demonstrate agility at organizational and individual levels.

The second theme I took away was CURIOSITY. Now I have a slight bias here as I presented on the topic with Nik Beeson, but before that happened many presentations from Liane’s opening Key note, through the round table discussions and general conversations raised the subject. The desire to investigate, to not fear being curious and to encourage questioning was evident for all. Releasing curiosity is releasing that desire to learn.

My third observation was a focus on COACHING. Several conversations I had beside the main conference discussed how to develop others in Change Management capabilities through experienced professionals coaching them. Using Leadership Coaching to develop sponsor engagement and support as well as the opportunity to understand the value of change management.

This leads me to my fourth area, that of the term CHANGE AGENT. Time and again reference was made to people being and becoming change agents in all its guises. I recognize my own passion for this but reflect that it’s frequency of use is a good thing. We all have roles to play as change agents for ourselves and encouraging others.

My final take away is PASSION. Wherever I was, whomever I spoke with, and very evident in the facilitated discussion, attendees had a passion for the profession. This was reflected in senior practitioners wanting to develop more depth, offer support to those new to the field and make it accessible to more people. For the newer entrant just discovering their appetite for the field, a definite hunger for knowledge was present, sometimes overwhelming but so uplifting.

It was a pleasure to be part of this great regional conference. It was a strong follow up to the global ACMP conference. If it set the bar for future regional events, it is a high bar to follow. It’s only a small proportion of the size of the global conference but it punched above its weight. Thank you all for a great experience.

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on the conference please share.

Change Management is not one size fits all

blacksmithFar too many times I have conversations that start by asking what methodology I use for change management. Typically, this comes from a client but sometimes a colleague or connection. It’s as if they think I’ve got the secret sauce and three spoons added into the mix will make it all happen wonderfully well. I’m here today to dash those utopian misconceptions. I’m sorry but anyone who thinks they can use the single same approach to every change event is sorely mistaken and doomed to failure more times than they should.

I have many contacts who are certificated in certain methodologies. It’s great they have these in their tool box, but I worry when that’s all I see. The problem is that I see these practitioners forcing their change events to fit their learned methods no matter what the consequences. It’s very naive to think that the change event can be shaped to fit. Do you really think it wise to start your change with a change effort in itself? Fortunately, they often strike lucky and get a change where their approach works, or at least works well enough to satisfy the required change management needs. But I don’t like relying on luck too much.

In a world of continued complex and disruptive change events we need to be able to build the canvas for change activity that suits the change, flexes with it and guides us through the change event. We need to pick up relevant activities to meet the change needs from across a catalogue of approaches as we deploy our strategy. I strongly advocate that change managers who want to truly deliver successful change, should have multiple methods, models and approaches to hand. If you try and make the change fit your preference, then you are undertaking an unnecessary change management activity in itself. Change Management is a multilayered, holistic practice and cannot be undertaken with a cookie cutter approach.

carpenters-toolsSince being part of the founding group and as a longtime volunteer, I’ve been an advocate for the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) partly because of the value it places in being methodology agnostic. Subject to popular myth and conjecture it does not recommend any on approach or methodology. It talks to a likely cyclic experience for change in its Standard® but that is about the journey and activities required not the tools you choose to use for each activity; that my friends is for you to choose.

When I created my certified change agent program I was adamant that the credential would not be about a single approach but about understanding the journey and how to successfully navigate it. Of course it also talks to the whole change agency philosophy I believe is a major contributor to the success of change events in organizations.

By the time I completed my graduate program I had dissected 11 approaches in detail and explored many more. It gave me a multifaceted opportunity to ensure I have more than one set of tools. Like any great artisan, who has some old well used tools together with some new ones; some old reliable that get the job done and some others that are only for those tricky action, my toolbox is much the same. This October marks 25 years in the change field for me – scary times! I’ve had an opportunity to collect like crazy, I just hope that others see the same benefits in a diverse and assorted toolbox to have to hand

Join us at one of our Managing & Leading Change Workshops here or become a Certified Change Agent here.


Having the Courage to Embrace Change

Embrace-ChangeSo I’ve been sitting on these thoughts for a few weeks, waiting for them to solidify properly in my mind. They are a response, reflection and inner thought process that came about from hearing Brené Brown talk at the ACMP Global Conference – Change Management 2016.

Now if you have no prior knowledge who I am talking about – just go here or here and all will become clear who this person is!
For some time, I’ve been talking to people about the complexity of change, fatigue as a result of constant change, personal resiliency and the whole emotional impact of change, coping with change and the consequences of poorly supported change! This gig, really unpacked that emotional baggage, or maybe its emotional cargo, that gets to take over personal reactions to change.

My recent thought process was triggered by three statements that Brené made during her presentation to the assembled change management masses.
1. Fear of irrelevance is the number 1 driver for shame at work;
2. We can’t do vulnerability because we are compliance driven;
3. Anxiety is never a function of individuals but groups.

I’m going to unpack each and then hopefully let you see my connect across their relevance to shame.

Like many others, I have long made the connection between emotional response to change and emotional response to grief. I have discussed this a number of times and its one of the key discussions in my change agent philosophy. However, I have always pushed the envelope a little more and narrowed it into a simple phrase that reflects why that reaction is present – the fear of what everyone else will think of me now. I throw the question out to you – how would you feel if you thought you might have to suffer shame in your role – wouldn’t that cause a reaction in you, even effect your mental health and consequently physical health? Talk to Resurgence Behavioral Health experts, to check your mental health if you have been feeling down. This to me is the overarching concern of change in the workplace – people are afraid they will no longer be needed, have purpose or have a useful contribution to make post change! As Brené states – irrelevance is the number 1 driver for shame and as change is probably one of the biggest drivers for fearing irrelevance, I connect this as change is the one of the primary causes of people being afraid of being shamed at work.

complianceI’ve long felt personally challenged to stop blind compliance throughout too many organizations. We do systems and process focused vulnerability checks and appear to project this onto the organizational culture and workforce. We encourage cultures that reward compliance and dismiss, or worse still, punish; alternative thinking. We are so afraid of being seen as different, or seen as being a rebel in the midst that we have taught, trained and conditioned that out of our workforces. When did it become successful to have organizations of automatons? One of my side projects reflects this passion to push back – Curiosity Culture is all about challenging people to think of the right questions before they jump to their conclusion and solution-izing into compliant followership. When you are willing to push outside the box, you are willing to be vulnerable, but we are conditioned to do neither inside the monolithic structures of too many organizations. I challenge you to look at the mindsets, culture and people’s motivation in those organizations that are the most successful in this day and age?

My final thoughts here come to the displayed resistance we see when proposing a new change in the organizations. How many people are truly resistant and how many people are resistant because that is the group think reaction they feel they should demonstrate? I love Brené’s reflection here that anxiety is a group function – in order to get anxious, you have to have others around you to feel less or more, demonstrate emotions as needed and have your inner benchmarking going on. I see this in terms of resistance. People are only seen as resistant when there are those to compare with and people only express their emotional response when there is an audience to respond to it. You cannot perform if you have no audience! Now I may sound a bit flippant on this point, but my proposal here is to consider that resistance to change should be assessed on an individual basis not on a group basis. I know as humans we like to group our fellow homo sapiens into nice clean labeled groups to engage, approach and congregate under, but this always permits, of not encourages this group based anxiety and resistance to proliferate.

Why have I focused on these things together? Well let me pull it together in this simple way. Fear of shame, disapproval of vulnerability and encouraged anxiety are prevalent in all failed change. As change management professionals we need to move away from the “process of change management” and embrace the need for emotional support mechanisms for those experiencing change. Without including this in all future change efforts, we will most definitely create an environment for every decreasing resiliency, capacity and readiness for change as we move organizations forward at faster paces each and every year.

Change and the Emotional Bank Account

I’m always interested in exploring the true human elements of change management. I regularly have the conversation with others whereby I explain that change is more than a process it’s a journey of feelings and experience. This emotional side is far too easily overlooked, particularly by those managers who want to manage activity rather than the people doing it!

pinkpiggybankIn the past year or so I’ve been taking a keen interest in discussions around the personal, or human emotional bank account. This is based on the premise that every individual has a set level of emotional energy within themselves and every time they do something, part of this energy is used up. However, there is only a finite amount of energy, so over time it may become dangerously low or even be exhausted. When this happens, people fall sick, become depressed or withdraw from interaction with others, even having a breakdown in the most extreme cases. As with a financial bank account, when the funds are perilously low, things get scary.

To prevent going too low on your emotional account, you need to find ways to make deposits into it. Like in the financial space those deposits can be achieved from a wide range of sources, and will vary in amounts too. Now we live in a world that doesn’t create a lot of space to get deposits of emotional energy. Most of the emotional withdrawals are linked to change events, with the extreme changes having greatest impact. Of course, one of my personal challenges is allowing people time to recover somewhat from a change before the next comes along. We never have opportunities to truly grieve on the last change, before the next happens.

mindbreakingNow the whole concept of an emotional bank account I find close to building personal and therefore professional resilience. I talked about this in my last post here. If we do not carve space in our hectic schedules for recharge time we run the threat of a poorly prepared organization, unready for change, lacking resilience to cope with that next piece of activity coming fast over the horizon.

rechargeI think there are a number of easy things we can do to help with building up the balance in this emotional bank account. We can start by recognizing its existence and reflecting on our personal levels. We can find ways to recognize what takes more out than others and prepare for those higher value withdrawals. We can also find ways to newly create or replenish those emotional reserves. To this latter point I have seen a personal change in my levels since embracing elements of mindfulness. I’m not an expert in the field by any stretch, but the short time outs to consider self and be centred around your position in the universe have truly paid me dividends. This article I wrote discussed my journey with mindfulness.

I truly see great benefits in managing your emotional bank account, developing resilience and being better prepared for professional and personal change in your life. We live in a constantly changing world with an ever increasing speed of change and number of changes. We need to find our coping mechanisms proactively and move away from Band-Aids to try and fix it when its too late!