How to Be a Naysayer

I was recently asked by a stakeholder for advice on how to resist change in a professional way. His company is going through a dramatic change and, though he thinks the direction is a good idea, he disagrees with how change is being executed. While he thinks he is being the voice of reason by speaking up, since he is the only one dissenting he is concerned that everyone else perceives him as simply being a pain in the ass.

His question to me was: How do I express negativity in a way that people listen to my concerns and don’t just write me off as not being a team player?


  1. Examine your true reason for resisting the change. Ask yourself objectively why. Are you only worried about your future at the company, or is there a flaw in the plan? Are training materials inadequate, is communication unclear, were critical stakeholders missed when the change was designed? Once you know the reason behind your negative perspective, you will be able to express it so that others understand your resistance is based on rational thought and not simply emotions–fear of change or a desire to be a thorn in people’s sides.
  2. Frame your concerns in terms of business value. Senior executives will listen if their business objectives are at risk. Find a way to express your resistance in terms of impact on customer satisfaction, customer retention, revenue… Poorly designed changes lose companies lots of money, which is bad for business.
  3. Handle the situation using emotional intelligence. Don’t react to change by announcing that you hate your job, hate your boss, or that you think the change team members and/or executives are idiots. Think about how your words and actions will impact your company and people’s perception of you. Focus your behavior on trying to achieve positive business results from the change–both for you and for your company.

Resistance to change is normal; however, how you communicate that resistance has an impact on whether you are perceived as the brave voice who speaks up when others won’t, or as a pain in the ass who people dread having on their team.

The choice is up to you.

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Posted in Creating Change Agents, Making the Case for Change, Overcoming Resistance to Change | Tagged , , , , , , |

What Do You Do When You Get Stuck?

Leading change is hard. Encountering roadblocks is inevitable. So what do you do when you reach a point where you feel like you are encountering resistance at every turn? How do you continue to move forward and not allow yourself to get stuck?

[lonely blue boat, stuck in the mud]

Image courtesy kyle post on flickr

1. Take the long-term view

The best boss I ever had was never rattled by naysayers nor people who went behind her back and tried to undermine what she was trying to achieve. She focussed on how much better her company would be in 5 or 10 years when the change had taken hold. She followed her internal compass that told her that change was the right thing to do for her customers–internal and external. She believed that people’s immediate reactions were fleeting. In the end, the vision’s benefits would far exceed the annoyance of temporary noise.

2. Find and nurture your relationships with people who can see the possibility

As a change leader you will be expected to repeatedly and consistently act as a cheerleader for why the change is needed, and why now. Yet as human beings, we all have times when we need someone to act as a sounding board–whether we seek advice or just need to vent. While your sponsor will primarily articulate the case for change and persuade others to get on board, leverage her positivity and belief in the project when you have moments of doubt. She may have creative ideas to help you through the current challenges and/or find a way to give you a break–coffee, a walk, an afternoon off–to mentally regroup so you can come back with renewed energy.

3. Review the successes you have achieved to-date

At the beginning of your change effort you defined what success will look like and how you will objectively know that change has happened. Though the change is not fully implemented, take a moment to reflect on what you have accomplished:

  • What positive voice-of-the-customer feedback have you received from people who have already adopted the change?
  • Are there interim business benefits that have already been realized?
  • Have you heard stories of any unexpected positive business impacts that you did not originally intend?
  • Has your personal network and/or knowledge of the inner workings of your company expanded?
  • Have you gained any new skills as a result of your work on this project–influencing without authority, active listening, industry certifications?

4. Keep going

In the end, great change only comes about because leaders are willing to persevere through seemingly insurmountable odds.

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
― Thomas Edison

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Posted in Executing the Change, Overcoming Resistance to Change |

The Power of I Statements

Last year I took one of the Brave New Workshop’s women-focused programs. Like me, the majority of the attendees were women who work in historically male-dominated fields. One of the topics taught during the workshop was using “I” statements to share one’s point of view: “I want…” “I need…” “I am…” The idea behind using “I” statements is that it encourages us as individuals to express what we truly want or need in a particular situation.

No one can read our minds nor truly understand our perspective unless we tell them.


In my current mentoring relationship, my mentee was struggling with work/life balance. Specifically, her boss had fallen into a pattern of sending emails in the middle of the night (10 or 11 PM) and taking her laptop with her on vacation so she was able to check in from the beach. This was stressing my mentee out because she had gotten into a comfortable work/life balance for herself, she did not want to be plugged in to work when she goes on vacation, and she didn’t want to set the expectation of constant monitoring of emails after hours or on vacation for her team either. My mentee was worried that her boss expected her to monitor emails late at night and to respond right away to whatever her boss sent.

I suggested that my mentee use “I” statements with her boss. A colleague of my mentee’s had approached their boss about the late at night emails and their boss had gotten defensive. The conversation had not gone well. My advice was for my mentee to find a time when her boss was receptive–maybe ask if they could go for coffee–and to share her personal perspective: “I really want to do a good job. I want to understand if you send emails in the middle of the night what your expectations are for me. Is it OK if I respond first thing in the morning when I get into the office, or do you expect an immediate response? It is important to me that I am meeting your expectations so please help me know how I can deliver what you need from me.”

My mentee said that the “I” statements were extremely powerful! Her boss did not get defensive and they had a great conversation. In fact, after hearing my mentee’s perspective, her boss became self-reflective as she hadn’t realized the number of hours she (the boss) was working nor the impact of that lack of work/life balance on her direct reports. My mentee said that her boss has now stopped sending emails in the middle of the night and that their relationship is even more trusted than it had been before she shared her personal perspective.

My mentee said that “I” statements made her feel empowered and reduced her anxiety. She views them as a great tool in her toolkit and is even more confident, now that she has experience using “I” statements, that she has a terrific way to frame future difficult conversations. Instead of telling someone that they are stressing her out, she knows she has a way to share her personal perspective so they can have a constructive discussion about what to do on a go-forward basis.

Being able to build trusted relationships is key to effecting any change, whether we want to change what our bosses do, what our peers do, or what our teams do.

I want you to have this tool in your toolkit for the next time you need to share your perspective. I hope you get great results, too!

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Posted in Creating Change Agents |

Disarming the Tension

Leading change is hard. As change agents, we often need to react to situations in the opposite way from what our emotions would lead us to do. Instead of fighting fire with fire, we need to quench the fire with humility and kindness.

My mother worked in a pathology lab while I was growing up. The head pathologist in this hospital was a bully: whenever other doctors would visit, he would purposely drop trays of slides and call in the (almost entirely female) staff to pick up the items off the floor. By–literally–forcing his employees to get down on their hands and knees, this was how the pathologist showed everyone how powerful he was.

One day, the pathologist hired a new secretary. We lived in Wisconsin, yet the new hire was a true Southern belle. She had a lovely accent and referred to everyone as “Hon.” The first time the pathologist publicly screamed at her for doing something wrong, instead of getting angry or showing any frustration, this Southern belle apologized, took the doctor’s arm, and asked him to “come show little ol’ me how to do it right.” She decided not to allow herself to feel belittled or bullied, but instead enlisted him to help her get it right.

The secretary did not get defensive; her response of humility and asking for help defused the situation. Her genuine openness to want to learn disarmed the bully, and turned him into part of the solution. After that, if any of the lab staff had a challenge or concern, they looked to the doctor’s secretary for guidance in how best to solve the problem. Through her approach, she was able to change the entire tenor of the lab’s culture. She became a valuable agent of change within the hospital.

Leading change is hard. If we can control our emotions and respond in an unexpected way from the direction that someone is pushing us, we may be able to disarm the situation. And who knows, by doing the unexpected, we may help difficult people find an alternate way of behaving!

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Posted in Creating Change Agents, Establishing a Change that Lasts | Tagged , , |

Are You Really Ready to Change?

Leaders set the tone for their organizations. As a leader, are you preparing your organization to be successful in the future? Or are there preconceived notions that you bring to the table that are clouding your ability to set your team up for success?

Tornado over Oklahoma Town

My first job after graduate school was as a business systems analyst for a now-defunct company. I worked there in the late 1990’s during the dot-com boom, analyzing root causes and customer impacts of Information Technology (IT) issues. When I was on call to support a computer system, I carried a pager that informed me when a problem occurred. The pages invariably happened at 3 or 4 AM, and I had to drive into the data center and fix the jobs on the server. Once everything was running properly, I would drive home, shower, get dressed, and return to the office for my day at work. As was the norm at the time, I did not have the technology to be able to use a laptop to remotely access the servers and resolve the issue from home. I had to get in my car to go manually fix the error.

Today, thankfully, the majority of IT issues can be resolved from a computer (or even a smartphone) outside of a physical data center. Employees in the 21st century expect to have the proper tools to be able to do their jobs from wherever they are located. In fact, work-at-home jobs are a viable option in a growing number of industries.

Though many jobs can be done remotely, not all executives have adapted their thinking. In a recent conversation, a colleague mentioned to me that her Chief Executive Officer (CEO) came from a banking background. This gentleman used to run a bank branch wherein business was done face-to-face with customers who walked in the door or drove through the drive-through. Though he is now the CEO of a division of a large corporation, he still sets a culture that expects business to be done in-person. He does not allow telecommuting, and in fact, when severe weather prevents people from making it into the office and they opt to work from home, he does not credit them with getting any work done. Though the tools to do jobs have evolved over the years, based on his background, this CEO has created a culture where work is only recognized when it is done in person.

Leaders set the tone for their organizations. Is the culture you have created appropriate to today’s work environment, or is it outdated? And if your organization truly wants–or needs–to change, are you ready to eliminate these preconceived notions to set a new tone and direction for your team?

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Art of Self-Promotion

A few years ago my husband shared Clay Shirky’s A Rant About Women with me. While I bristled at first, I have to admit that we as women need to get better at self-promotion. We need to get more comfortable telling people what we do, and, specifically, what we do well.

I’m going to start by talking about cleaning the bathroom. Now, before you turn back to your smartphone or leave this site to watch cute kitten videos on YouTube, I want to tell you why cleaning the bathroom is important.

Woman cleaning the bathroom

My sophomore year in college, I moved out of the dorm and into an apartment with 4 other girls. Yes, it was a 3-bedroom apartment (a 3rd floor walk-up, as my parents who helped me haul heavy furniture up 3 levels of spiraling staircase will attest) for 5 of us, with 1 bathroom. One of the first things we did as roommates was to create a list of chores and a cleaning schedule.

As an undergraduate I majored in molecular biology and therefore took multiple classes each semester with long lab hours. I was poor, paying my way through school. The same year I moved off-campus, I also got a work/study job in a molecular biology lab at the university. My job was not glamorous; I washed the dishes. In molecular biology, scientists work on such a small scale that it is critical that their equipment be immaculate. There was a whole procedure that involved soap, specialized brushes, multiple rinse cycles, and a final rinse with purified water. There were 2 of us work/study students in this lab: me and a guy from my major. One of the graduate students taught us how to wash the glassware, and then we each got keys to the lab. The professor and researchers didn’t care when we came in to wash the dishes, just so they had clean glassware for their experiments during the day.

I was a very active college student: I was involved in student government, I participated in numerous honor societies, and I also volunteered as a tutor at local middle schools. Plus I had to maintain a high grade point average to qualify for scholarships and to prepare for where I really wanted to go, graduate school. Due to my busy schedule, I left the apartment early in the morning, spent all day on campus in classes and labs, washed glassware in the evenings, and got home late at night. My turns to do apartment chores often meant I was cleaning the bathroom at midnight.

I was raised in the Midwest with the core value that we are all a part of the same community. What is important is that you pitch in and do your part. It doesn’t matter if anyone sees you do it, and you do NOT need to toot your own horn! (In actual fact, tooting your own horn is often discouraged in the Midwest.) Just never shirk your responsibilities and always pull your weight!

What I did not realize at the time was that if people don’t see you doing something, they don’t necessarily believe that you did it. The year I moved off-campus, I experienced this lesson twice.

First, my roommates held a meeting one afternoon and were all waiting for me in the living room when I got home that night. They wanted to talk to me about the fact that they had not seen me clean the bathroom, and didn’t I understand that that was one of my roles as a member of the household? I explained that I HAD cleaned the bathroom every time it was my turn. I just did it quietly at night so as not to wake anyone.

That was when I learned that I had overestimated the perceptions of female college students in the morning. I expected that whoever got up first would note the smell of bleach and Comet and think “Hey, isn’t this bathtub shiny? What a lovely way to start my day!” And thereafter tell the other roommates that I had fulfilled my chores that week. It turns out college students don’t think like this. Who knew?

Second, my fellow dishwasher was promoted to do research in the molecular biology lab where we worked. It turns out he had made a point of always washing the dishes when the graduate students (or the professor) were in the lab, and then showed an interest in what they were doing.

As an aside, this student informed me that he had also questioned where I was and whether I was pulling my weight as a dishwasher, since none of them had actually SEEN me in the lab since that first day of training. I pointed out that the dishes were being washed, and that it was not elves magically cleaning the glassware. (OK, not my finest hour, but I was young!)

All of which brings me back to my premise: just because we show up and do a good job, or do good things behind the scenes to make sure things go off without a hitch, does not mean our bosses or others in positions of power realize that we have contributed to our team’s overall success. Unless they actually SEE us clean the bathroom (or wash the dishes, or work on a presentation…) they are not going to magically promote us and assign us to something greater than where we are today. We have to become better at tooting our own horn!

Now I am not saying that we need to become egoists or narcissists who expect a pat on the back every time we simply respond to an email… and I am definitely NOT saying we should belittle anyone else to get ahead, ourselves.

What I am saying is that we need to learn to recognize our own worth, and to start helping those around us to see what we are worth, too. By learning to promote ourselves and the good work we do, in professional and appropriate ways, we will make it OK for others to learn to recognize their worth, too. And who knows, maybe we can reach a point where we won’t have to tell anyone we cleaned the bathroom–people will wake up and recognize that things are shinier than they were yesterday. And they will learn to value all those who work behind the scenes, helping to make our lives easier and maybe just a little bit cleaner!

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8 Words That Spur Action

My stepfather once told me that the 8 most powerful words in the English language are

“I have a problem. I need your help.”

Starting a conversation with these 8 words spurs the person who hears them to take action because of the meaning inherent in the 2 sentences:

  1. I have a problem. Something is not right. I am not blaming you for the problem nor trying to cause you to become defensive. The fact is, from my perspective, things are not going the way I had hoped or expected them to go.
  2. I need your help. You are a capable person who is in a position of power. I am coming to you because I know that you will have ideas to help me solve my problem.

The best way to engender trusted relationships is to humbly acknowledge what is going on and to ask for the assistance you need to make things better. Regardless of why or how the problem came about, the 8 words demonstrate that I am confident you, my fellow human being, have ideas or resources that will improve my situation.

After I have shared my perspective, we can work together to figure out the best way to point me in the right direction so we can all start feeling better very soon.

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Posted in Gaining Sponsorship | Tagged , |

How Long Will This Change Take?

By the time a major change effort is approved, it is usually because the changing business environment has become impossible to ignore. Upon formation of the change team, the champions and sponsors immediately ask, “how long will it take before we will see results?” The honest answer is, “It depends….”

Once you have created a measurable definition of success you can determine if you are making progress, how much, how quickly, and if it is in the right direction. We now need to address the fact that if your change affects people in any way–which we would argue all changes have people impact–it will take time.

People adapt to change at different rates and with varying degrees of ease.

Early Adopters

Early Adopters

Early adopters are your first followers. These people are hungry for change and are eager to join the movement. If I were to play music, a few of you would get up and dance–you might be tired of sitting, you might like my music choice… There are always people who can’t help themselves and want to be first.



At the other end of the spectrum are the resisters. When asked to think or behave differently, there will naturally be hesitation and fear. Back to my music example: there is a percentage of people who will NEVER get up and dance. They might even bring in a doctor’s note excusing them from public attempts at rhythm. Their excuse: “I just don’t dance!”

Majority of the Followers

Majority of the People Impacted

The majority of the people will pause to see what happens to the early adopters. When those individuals are not publicly shamed and don’t die of embarrassment, the majority become more willing to follow. As more people decide that they like the music and have had enough coffee, they will get up and join the first followers. That is how a change starts to take hold.

According to behavioral biologist Karen Pryor, the absorb and utilize stages (#5 and #6 out of her 8 stages of change) illustrated by the yellow change adoption phase can take a year or more.

Change Adoption End-to-End

Change Adoption End-to-End

People adapt to change at different rates and with varying degrees of ease. Because people follow people, you need to create a public, visible way to demonstrate that the change works and is easy, and that the followers are doing well, or at least they are not worse off after adopting the change. A solid, multidirectional communication plan is key to the success of change.

When your employees see increased momentum and examples of true successes, they begin to overcome their reluctance to adopt the change. Publicize that the first followers are surviving the change–the world didn’t end, no one was publicly humiliated–and that the change team is willing to receive continuous improvement suggestions (and adjust, as needed, if something is not working). For those who were on the fence about dancing, but see they are welcome and can add their style to the movement, they will become more comfortable about joining in.

As more people participate, you start to realize the business benefits that drove the need for change in the first place. Just be prepared to persist through the full change adoption curve until you have achieved full success!

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Posted in Executing the Change, Planning the Change Effort | Tagged , , , , , , , |

Why are Communities so Important?

“Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.”
― Seth GodinTribes: We Need You to Lead Us

wHolistic Change℠ recommends creating Communities of Practice (CoPs) when driving change within an organization. CoPs are ongoing forums for employees to share best practices and to learn from one other.

Why are communities our preferred mechanism to establish change? Chapter 15 of “wHolistic Change: Delivering Corporate Change That Lasts” explains our reasoning:

The continuous improvement feedback loop from and to the change team is critical. This ensures that the change team stays in touch with the people directly affected by the change while they are going through the change, identifies issues and risks early on, and keeps the key stakeholders informed throughout the deployment as adjustments need to be made…

CoPs build credibility for the change team with the people affected by the change because the communities demonstrate that the change team understands the human impact of the change and that they want to involve the employees in formulating the change….

A closed feedback loop is especially important if the change team does not understand the ripple effect of the change they are implementing. The impacted stakeholders need a mechanism to explain the impact and to participate in redesigning the change to ensure business continuity and to ensure no disruption to your customers.

We know change is hard. However when impacted employees are given a way to connect with others who are going through the same change, share what is working, and suggest how things could be done better, they realize that they are not alone. When people believe that their voices are heard, they feel valued and are more willing to dip their toes into the water and try the change out for themselves. That is how change truly takes hold!

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Our Favorite Won, Tune In Sunday

GoldieBlox™ won Intuit‘s Small Business, Big Game Challenge and will air a commercial during the Super Bowl this Sunday. We will be tuning in and cheering for Debbie who triumphed over adversity to bring her dream to life to make the future brighter for our children!

You can read more about it here.

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Posted in Overcoming Resistance to Change | Tagged , |