Untangle and grow

A blog by Alison Maxwell

Monday, 31 October 2011

Managing change as managing anxiety

I’ve had a suspicion for a while that managing change in organisation is actually often about managing anxiety levels. Just watch your own heart rate go up in a meeting when ‘hot words’ like ‘redundancy’, ‘restructure or ‘pay freeze’ get bandied about.

Change by definition is a journey into the unknown – if it wasn’t it wouldn’t be change. And the unknown brings uncertainty and fear. I see too many managers who try to smooth these reactions away and rather than helping their people face into the future give unwarranted reassurances and are then surprised when nobody puts much energy into the change process. At the other extreme, I see leaders who have provoked so much anxiety that their organisation ceases to function effectively, and they are surprised to find copies of CV’s in the photocopier.

An aspect of managing change is therefore about provoking enough concern to propel people into engaging with change but avoiding the levels of anxiety that bring dysfunction.  Getting the right balance of support and challenge is tough to achieve and a dimension of change too few leaders seem clued into.

So... where is the balance of anxiety in your organisation – too much or too little? 

Monday, 24 October 2011

The 'felt shift' - the change in the room

There is a moment in some coaching conversations when something shifts – there is a sense that something we have been tussling with has suddenly just become clearer and the way ahead more obvious. This shift is often subtle - perhaps the coaching client suddenly stops talking and stares out the window, or perhaps they suddenly sit differently, or sound more definite for the first time.

Peter Hawkins suggests that ‘the felt shift ‘ must start in the coaching session and that if  change doesn’t begin here it is unlikely to happen between sessions. I think I agree with him, however also think that the signs are easy to miss, especially if we don’t pay attention to the embodied non-verbal aspects of the work. Often the clues to a shift come from the demeanour or posture of the client – and may be easy to miss.

So…what is your coaching client telling you with the rest of their body not just with their mouth?

Monday, 17 October 2011

Gathering dust? Development on the shelf.

I had a lovely piece of feedback today to the effect that I designed and ran development programmes where people actually applied their learning in their real worlds and experimented with changed behaviours.

Whilst not averse to a compliment, what struck me most about this comment was that it needed to be said at all. Surely we don't run development programmes for the good of our health? What other walk of life would we invest our time, money and effort and not expect to get some sort of return or benefit. When did it become OK to go on development programme and leave the learning to gather dust on the proverbial shelf. While I get that there may be barriers to applying training messages (time, relevance etc) it does seem to have become normal not to expect much out of a course or that it somehow doesn't apply to us personally - and hey presto we have a self-fulfilling prophecy in action. I also think - while I'm on the subject - that we training designers need to get way more creative and that the ritualised action planning session we habitually include in the last hour is just not enough to ensure application and transfer.

We spend literally billions worldwide on training and development - are we just wasting out time and money or have we (trainers and trainees alike) just forgotten how to take development seriously? OK rant over


Monday, 10 October 2011

Are you taking your 50%?

OK gross generalisation coming up - I meet two types of line managers .. those who take way too much responsibility for their people and those who take too little.

My first type can really go over board with this even to the extent of feeling responsible for the emotions of their staff and holding sense of failure if everyone is anything less than happy and content. This can result in leaders who fudge feedback, struggle with the difficult conversation or (just) spend their spare time in a state of angst. Not good for them and probably not good for their people either. Coaching this type of leader often involves getting them to see that they have reasonably done all that that they should do and separating out a little from the emotional life of their team.

My second type tends to hold relationships at work at some distance and often have problems reading where other are coming from . They don't see that they are part of the life of the team and like it or not do a lot to set the tone and climate in the workplace. It can be a considerable shock for them to find that there is something of a gap between their intent as a leader and the actual impact they are having. Coaching this type involves strengthening the empathy 'muscle' and getting them to use feedback to monitor and manage the intent/impact gap.

So .. what sort are you? Do you take more or less than your 50%?

Monday, 3 October 2011

Resistant Roger

I met Roger (not his real name) last week. I was facilitating an intensive workshop for a large group of very disgruntled managers. They had all been through the mill, bruised survivors of a protracted change process which had left them with roles and responsibilities they didn’t fully understand, and weren’t they wanted. Roger was typical – there was nothing anyone could say or do that would convince him the changes had been of any benefit – and he fully intended to carrying on working as he always had (thank you very much). The management team, increasingly frustrated with his intractability, were running out of ideas on how to convince him.

Rick Maurer (US change management consultant and public speaker) usefully talks about 3 types of resistance to change:
·        Level 1 – “I don’t get it” . This is resistance borne out of just not understanding what the change is all about – the why? and the WIIFM.
·        Level 2 – “I don’t like it” At this level people ‘get’ the change, but they just hate it. 
·        Level 3 – “I don’t trust you/ the organisation”  At this level people respond not to the change per se but who is suggesting it

Roger’s case struck me as good example of how we can deal with resistance at the wrong level. Roger ‘got’ the change, he understood the logic for it. However, the change process has left him with a deep distrust of the organisation and its leadership. The more the management team pushed the logic of the change, the more he dug his heals in. What was needed was not more logic-based persuasion but a chance for Roger to reconnect with the organisation and repair relationships with his leaders and colleagues.

Here is Rick talking about his take on 'resistance to change'

So.. what level of resistance are you meeting in the workplace. Are you tackling resistance at the right level?