Where Are We Now?! By Bill Thatcher | Part Two
Special Note: Part One is written for anyone within More To Life wanting to understand where we are in implementing our change work. Part Two is for More To Life leaders and stakeholders interested in helping others within More To Life have a successful transition process experience.
I was recently on a call where we began to identify the questions that the “Agreed Changes” bullet points have – and will – generate for MTL students. It was only a beginning, but you can view that document for yourself here. I think you will be amazed at how many questions seem to pop out on their own, just by your spending a moment reflecting on a particular change item.
There is also a very basic question I urge us all to be asking as we proceed through this transition:
Who is going to have to let go of what to make the change work as planned?
Bridges says that “Changes require transitions, and transitions require people to let go of how things used to be. Foreseeing and planning how to encourage that process is very important – and the part of transition management that organizations most often forget.”
People will not (because they cannot) move straight from letting go to making the new beginning. Bridges calls the neutral zone that I described in Part One as a “kind of organizational vacuum in which many things don’t work well. Turnover often rises…communication often breaks down. This is a time for hands-on leadership and the kind of management that people need in uncertain and ambiguous times.”
What do you think Bridges means by “management that people need in uncertain and ambiguous times”? Think about this a little. Is there a different style/type of leadership that is needed in uncertain compared with certain times?! How about ambiguous instead of unambiguous times? What is that difference? Let me share the three elements I know to be important for this type of leadership. There are others but I like these three.
One element is empathy. Empathy will help you when you encounter that person who is holding on for dear life to a way of communicating or acting within More To Life that you recognize is from the old world. It will cause you to care instead of critique.
I’ve already spoken about the importance of naming. In fact, on one of the team Zoom calls today I did just that in speaking about the neutral zone and how chaotic it can feel, and I could see someone overwhelmed. I asked her why, and she said it was because she was hearing a description of the very thing she was feeling but hadn’t been able to understand why she was feeling it. “Oh, this is to be expected?! I’m not sure it makes it any easier to experience it, but at least I know I am not crazy.”
Respect is the third element of leadership during this uncertain and ambiguous time. Not just respect but, rather, extraordinary respect. What is the difference between those two types of respect? I’ll leave it to you to unpack the difference if you wish to do so, but it is an order of magnitude of difference. It is extremely hard to mistake one for the other. Extraordinary respect is one of the most powerful tools to break the grip of shame.
The neutral zone
Speaking of where we are right now, the neutral zone is also a time Bridges describes as “when individuals and organizational units ought to step back and take stock. Find ways to encourage that
Bridges also encourages leaders “to plan how they are going to explain, encourage, and reward the new behavior and attitudes that the changes are going to require of people.” I don’t think we have done this yet. At least I know I haven’t thought about this. We need to give this some reflection time. Bridges goes on in this same paragraph to say “It is fine to talk about ‘the vision’ and ‘the big picture,’ but remember that most people live at a much more practical level that is full of details. That is the level at which they are going to either contribute to the change or get in the way of it. Help them to understand what they can do to contribute to the change at that level.”
Change leadership versus transition leadership
Before I describe how I believe we can lead during these three phases, I’ll draw a distinction between change leadership and transition leadership. Just like the change process and the transition process are different, so is leadership, as I see it. Edward Groody was the key change leader over the past Design and Align Initiative. Even when he was not as much engaged following the Conference at Banning Mills in 2015, and into 2016, I certainly drew leadership from the documents he produced (think of all the Team charters) and the data he gathered to create that big, fat D for dissonance. He kept reminding us why we were expending all this effort and what our BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) was for More To Life. He drove home the importance of taking on this initiative and creating our new world. I was very specific in describing myself as the facilitator. The distinction may be lost on you, but it was not lost on me.
My role now, in this transition, is to – along with you – lead people through it. Bridges describes this transition function as a play with five acts. I’m only going to unpack the middle three because I think that is all that is needed at this point.
During the Ending
Remember, transition starts with an ending. Those who have been deeply engaged in a D&A Team have already had most of their MTL endings. In fact, the July 2016 Conference in Atlanta was probably a good tipping point for the organization on facing into the reality of endings. However, for many people, deciding on an ending and actually making that ending come to pass are two very different things! Most resistance you may see in yourself or in others within MTL is not a resistance to the change but rather the resistance to letting go of the familiar… how they have always done things… their comfort in knowing how YOU have always done things as a leader. Let people mourn and don’t take expressions of anger or depression too personally, Bridges suggests.
He also says that “during endings people crave information, although, ironically, they sometimes have trouble remembering it after you have given it to them.”
Leaders play an important part in this process by being the ones who define what it is time to let go of and what people do not have to let go of. For More To Life, we need to identify some strategic milestones and decide how we will help people acknowledge and let go. For example, how will we prepare for the shift from the I-Board to the International Council of Stewards? This is a huge change, perhaps the largest of all the changes. I don’t know for sure, but it is BIG. We need to think about how we will mark such a turning point. It cannot just be a technical step because, in my estimation, it represents such a fundamental shift in our being together.
Being on the CUSP
If you’ve been scanning what I’ve written up to now, I ask you to slow down for this section. I believe it is the key to our success.
“In the neutral zone,” writes Bridges, “people feel lost and confused. What are the rules? Who’s in charge of what? What does the new strategy do to the old priorities? … It will help you understand the issues here to remember the acronym CUSP: people need (but currently lack) Control, Understanding, Support, and a clear sense of Priorities. As you watch your people struggle to adjust to the changes, remember that they are searching for ways to…:
“…get more control of their situations: Anything you can do to help people feel more in control of their work, their futures, and their lives in general is helpful.
“…recover the feeling of being supported: Most people had some kind of support system before the change came along, but change disrupts support systems. During this difficult time, you can offer emotional support, which requires empathy or the ability to imagine the world from another’s viewpoint, and you can also make sure that the organization is providing people with the practical support they need.”
Our processing tools offer real advantages over what most other organizations use when experiencing change. We have ways to process emotions, to address self-judgment and judgment of others, to stay awake and current to all we are receiving, among many other resources. One of the purposes for our Community Engagement Conversations is to provide a real-time opportunity to hear where people are in the change initiative and identify places in our collective relationships where we need to be intentionally reinforcing support.
Bridges writes about the importance of expressing concerns you might see or hear within the organization: “One action that clearly expresses concern is listening: good communication during the neutral zone has less to do with what you say than with your ability to really hear what others are saying.” This is another reason why the monthly Zoom calls are important to our success.
During the New Beginning
“It is important that leaders not be so in love with the details of the changes they are launching that they sacrifice the spirit of the outcome that the changes were intended to produce,” says Bridges. “Leaders who become emotionally wedded to their ‘plans’ sometimes fail to distinguish between incidentals and fundamentals and end up establishing the former at the expense of the latter… Beginnings go better when there is enough flex in the system that people can customize situations to fit them.” We can help one another avoid this pitfall by repeatedly asking ourselves: Is this new issue or suggested way of doing an incidental or a fundamental?
“Good transition leaders automatically think of rewarding new behavior and attitudes, while those who are not very good at getting people through transition sometimes view praise and other forms of reinforcement as something that should not be necessary in view of how important the change is. You need to remember that when people are trying out new behaviors that don’t yet feel normal or natural, rewards can be disproportionately effective.”
Those of us involved as leaders of this change process need to realize that we are farther into the new beginnings than many others within our communities. Some of our fellow students are only now picking up on the fact that this Design & Align thing will involve the organization in some massive and fundamental redesigns. Just because you may be at a different – one might say, more forward – place in this transition process, don’t take your advantage personally. Bridges says, “…it is unlikely you are further along in your transition than others because you are smarter or a better person. You are simply going to be able to make your new beginnings before your followers are, and until the followers catch up, they are going to have different needs than you do. You must realize that not everyone has the same outlook or needs as you do.”
So, it seems to me, it is our role as leaders to travel through this transition process with humility along with empathy, respect and affirmation. It will never hurt to also show a spirit of authentic caring – for ourselves, as well as others – for what we all are experiencing.
[Bill Thatcher, Seattle, September 2016]
Read Part One:
Part One is written for anyone within More To Life wanting to understand where we are in implementing our change work.