Why change is difficult and what to do about it

Change is difficult, that’s what we often hear, and yet the pace of change is unrelenting.

 

Let’s start by looking at why change is difficult.

All change involves people and their habits . We build habits over time and these change our attitudes and behaviours. It is possible to change these and to develop new habits, however, it is not easy because habits become embedded. This is particularly strong when we look at cultures in organisations and the habits that have developed within them. Habits show up when we try and answer the question, ‘what is the way we do this in my organisation?’ For example, it could be a simple action taken on a daily basis such as how the leader addresses everyone first thing in a morning.

How often have we heard  the response, ‘we have done this before and it hasn’t worked’ when a change initiative is introduced. Yes, this could be due to a general reluctance to change. However, it can also be due to other factors.  Often people do not see the need to change and are therefore not engaged in the change process, or, the change may not have been addressing the ‘real’ problem.

So, what can help overcome resistance to change?

A way to address these concerns is to treat the change as a messy problem. That is a problem with many dimensions to it and which does not have one clear solution. This is particularly appropriate when change is required around people and their actions. I would suggest therefore that any change program start with a creative problem solving process. This ensures a thorough investigation into the reason why change is needed; that is, asking the question, what is the problem to be resolved by change?

By introducing a creative problem-solving process involving those affected by the change, there is more likely to be a higher rate of engagement in the change. When you engage people and they can understand the need for change, they are much more likely to work to make the change happen rather than resist it.

Engaging people in the change process

Engaging people requires a participative leadership model. To rely on deciding strategy at the top and disseminating it downwards does not engage them. Leaders need to involve people in the process of why the change is needed and what it will look like. It is a top down and bottom up approach.

An excellent example of engaging people in change can be seen in the change process facilitated by Marjorie Parker and detailed in her book ‘Creating Shared Vision‘. The leader created a vision for the culture change that was needed. This was shared throughout the organisation. Each department  interpreting the vision in order to make the changes needed.

A process I undertook when leading a culture change programme involved something similar. We started by involving everyone in identifying the problem, then creating a vision for what it would look like when the problem is resolved. The gap between the current situation and the future vison was identified by teams of people working together. Then behaviours were identified which were needed  to get from the present situation to future vision.

When individual behaviours are identified in the process of change, it breaks the process down into manageable parts. A great overview of change and the importance of behaviours in the change process can be seen here in the interview with Edgar Schein, one of the gurus of culture change.

Change is difficult, it is also a long process and can take years, particularly if it involves culture change. Therefore it is important to keep people energised and engaged throughout the whole process. In the example above, we had regular small collaborative meetings in the different areas where change was needed, and there was constant follow up on the actions required. It was important to keep the momentum and energy up.

Summarising the key points:

  • Change is hard, habits are enduring, and there will be resistance to change.
  • Engage people in order to overcome resistance to change; in the analysis of the problem, and the steps to change.
  • Provide or co-design a compelling vision of the new post-change situation to engage people.
  • A participative and collaborative leadership style is needed to engage people in change initiatives.
  • Working at the level of behaviours makes the change process more tangible.
  • Change takes time and energy and requires resilience of all involved.

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley. 

Facilitating creative techniques

I have written previously about the importance of different creative techniques to help with creative problem solving. One of the barriers to introducing these into the workplace may be the confidence of the leader in facilitating them. Here I want to simplify the process and offer some guidelines for facilitating creative techniques in the workplace.

The first point to make is that for many people at the moment, being at work no longer means being present in the workplace, so many of the techniques may need to be adapted for remote working.

To keep this relatively simple, I have divided the topic up into the main issues to consider,   and will address each one in turn.

 Purpose

If people are going to buy into a creative workshop, in whatever form, they need to believe that it has a useful purpose. So, clarify the purpose and consider justifying why this requires a creative workshop? For example, the need to resolve a wicked problem, or a space to create new ideas for the future generation of products.

 Space

The ideal space to hold creativity workshops, would be a flexible space, off-site with outdoor space available. Off site is always best as it signals a different way of working. It is hard to change to a creative mode when working in the same environment as your everyday work. If off-site is not an option try and find a space where a conducive atmosphere can be created – for example where there are no tables, nor computers, and plenty of wall space to exhibit outputs as you go along.

If working remotely, for example using Zoom, then ask that participants come with space around them to work, and with the possibility to move around a little. Ask them to have resources at hand, such as coloured pencils and paper.

 Timing and structure

I have linked these two together because one will determine the other.

If timing is a constraint, that is you only have a couple of hours, then it is impossible to structure that time for a complete problem-solving process. It would be more realistic to introduce a couple of creative techniques such as brainstorming and a playful variation on it, like reversals.

If, on the other hand it is more important to address a serious wicked problem or plan for a future product, then structure the process and carve out the time required.

The level of experience in use of creative techniques will also influence the time required. The more experienced you and/or the team are, the less time you will need to get into the creative mode.

Choice of technique

  • If you are new to this, stay with a technique and structure you feel comfortable with. A facilitator needs to be able to guide participants and then let them free to work on the technique. If you are nervous about trying a new technique you may be tempted to intervene.
  • Choose  according to the purpose of each session.
  • The individual differences of participants may be a factor here. Introverts may take longer to think through their inputs. Build in techniques which they will feel more comfortable with, otherwise the extroverts will dominate.
  • In choosing the techniques and planning the sessions, reflect upon whether each technique will work best done individually, in pairs or as a whole group.
    • Working alone will work well if it’s an early input around perceptions of a problem.
    • Working in pairs for some of the exercises can offer a level of support and comfort.
    • Working as a whole group can produce more ideas, as with brainstorming, however there may be issues around everyone being involved. It will depend upon the group. My advice would be anything beyond six needs to be broken down into smaller groups.

Setting ground rules for the creativity session

 This is crucial and you will need to think this through in advance and present them for agreement at the beginning. Here are the rules I like to establish:

  • Brainstorming rules: defer judgement, go for quantity, the wilder the better, build upon others ideas.
  • Be constructive – no negativity
  • Be flexible and open to other ideas
  • Encourage active listening

You might want to add rules about keeping to time, confidentiality, mobiles off etc.

Resources

What resources will you want, or can have?

For example, I usually have lots of coloured pens, post-its and paper for writing and drawing as well as flip chart boards or walls to put paper on.

In general, for successful facilitation

  •  Have a structure and be flexible enough to change it if necessary. Not all techniques work with everyone. Sometimes you need to try something different to achieve the objective of the session.
  • When facilitating a group, start with some warm up exercise, and also have a couple of short energisers to use when energy is starting to flag.
  • Set out the instructions for the exercise and then stand back and let the participants work with the technique. It is important not to step in unless it is needed to clarify something. Do not try to influence what is happening.

For more ideas around techniques and how to use them, check out the book I co-wrote with Tracy Stanley.

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley. 

Create your vision with a storyboard

Many organisations talk about creating a vision for their future. However what many do is to create a vision statement. This just doesn’t work for me. Visions need to be inspirational and for this to happen they really need to soar above the limitations of words.

For this reason, I usually recommend creating a future vision through image work, at least in the first instance. To check out ideas for creating a vision using drawing, take a look here. In my next blogpost I will take a look at some other tools for creating vision, such as collage.

Ok, so you have an inspirational vision and you have shared or even better co-created it with your employees, colleagues, family. What next?

One process that you can try, is to create a storyboard to show both your future vision, where you are now, and the steps to get there.  This seems to be versatile enough to satisfy people who need a structured approach, and is also attractive to people who dislike a structured approach. For this latter category it can be fun to complete all the boxes using images.

To complete your storyboard

Take a large piece of paper and create 6 numbered  boxes as shown.

  • Put your vision image into box 6,  and in box 1 you put a picture to represent where you are now.
  • Brainstorm the gap between where you are now and your future vision. Find other people to work with on this.
  • Turn the ideas coming out if this brainstorm into actions.
  • Put all the actions down on a separate piece of paper and then work out where they fit on the journey from box 1 to box 6.
  • It  is often difficult to take those first steps from box 1 to box 2 . It’s a bit like stepping into treacle and you may get stuck. Working backwards from box 6 can help in this process. so ask yourself, what is the last action I need in place before I achieve my vision.

For people who are less structured, this can remain as a loose journey based upon some big action steps. Drawing them can be fun and inspiring.
If you are a more structured person then you can work with defining each step and adding targets etc to them.  Bullet proofing can be helpful at this stage to check out what can prevent and what can help achievement of the final vision.

This process can be used in many different ways. for example, I have coached people to use it to develop their strategy, or to map out their personal and professional development. It is also very useful as a process withing creative problem solving to pull together the different stages of the process.

I hope this has given you some ideas for working with putting vision into reality. The next step to take is to do exactly that – take some action!

 

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley. The use of storyboarding and how it fits into creative problem solving is covered in this book.

The importance of raising energy in a meeting

In January I wrote about icebreakers and their value in setting the scene for an event. Today,  to follow on from this, I will focus on the importance of raising energy in a meeting and how to do it.

Photo by Cathy Mü on Unsplash

What are energisers?

These are exercises, or some form of activity that can be inserted into a workshop or meeting to raise the energy of the group. Coffee can of course serve that purpose, and it works for me in a morning! However, the use of group energisers increases the energy level of the whole group and can inject a sense of fun into any meeting.

When to use energisers?

  • Energisers can be used at the beginning of an activity, or during it when energy is dropping in the room. After lunch is a great time for an energiser.

  • At the beginning of an event an energiser can also work as an icebreaker to create a good environment for the work ahead. For example, if it is a training event encouraging creative thinking, the use an energiser to open up the group and start to develop a creative climate for the event.

  • Mid-way through a project an energiser can be used to re-invigorate the thinking and energy in the group. This can rekindle the enthusiasm and motivation of the group.

  • Longer term projects or programs may warrant more time spent on energizers. This can be at the beginning to create a working climate, and throughout the project when energy is starting to flag. For a lengthy program a longer time can be justified in setting the scene. Here, energisers may be of a different nature.  Outdoor exercises, dance workshops, cookery classes have been examples of energisers I have noted.

    To summarise:

  • Energisers raise energy when it is most needed.

  • Use them to develop a group climate for the success of the event/program.

  • Insert them anywhere into a program or event to reinvigorate it.

  • They may only need a short time to work.

Energising virtual groups

I have offered a couple of  examples of energisers hereHowever we are currently living in a time when group meetings are not encouraged. Therefore it is important to consider how to energise groups who are meeting virtually.

 Many people will be struggling with a loss of energy during these times. Using platforms such as Zoom are good for virtual  meetings however, there is a tendancy to sit rather passively when we are facing a screen. Raising energy at the start of such meetings can make a difference to the climate of the meeting and ensure it is more productive.

So how do you do this?

I hope that these simple guidelines may help.

  • To raise energy people need to be physically active. This is more difficult sitting in front of a screen but not impossible. Ask participants to stretch, to stand, do some gentle exercise before the meeting gets underway properly.

  • To enable everyone to participate, ensure that each person gets a chance to contribute early on. Prepare in advance and ask them to send in or have  something ready to share.

  • For example, ask each person  to send in a photo of themselves as a baby – put these up anonymously and ask participants to decide which one belongs to which participant. You could also use first car, a first pet or favourite song etc.

  • You could ask each person in turn  to state two truths and a lie and ask everyone else  to decide which is the lie.

Use your imagination here , prepare ahead, and then limit discussion  to two minutes per person.

Create an atmosphere of fun if the meeting warrants it. For training, or creative/innovation working groups then it would. However, for other more serious meetings  then use an exercise which is a little more serious. Remember the aim is to encourage sharing and for everyone to raise their energy early on in the meeting.

What  have you used to energise a virtual meeting?

 

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached people  in a variety of corporate settings, and developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently published a book on creativity for leaders with Dr. Tracy Stanley, entitled Creativity Cycling .

The Dangers of Groupthink

Groupthink is a collective mindset which can develop within cohesive groups.

So what are the dangers of groupthink?

Photo by Margarida CSilva on Unsplash

It results in a group view being established and decisions being taken without assumptions being checked. This can happen for many reasons; a lack of diversity in the group can result in a common mindset but also a conformity of thinking through fear or desire to fit in. This can lead to the group and individuals within it ignoring facts and opinions when these counter the groups’ views. The result is often poor and even disastrous decision making.

Irving Janis studied political decisions taken by cohesive committees in America and developed this framework for recognising the symptoms of groupthink.

The Symptoms of Groupthink

Janis (1982) identified eight different symptoms that indicate groupthink:

  1. Illusions of invulnerability – this can result in members of the group being over optimistic and can lead to higher risk-taking.
  2. Illusions of morality – this can lead members to believe that as moral people they are unlikely to make bad decisions.
  3. Collective Rationalization – prevents members from reconsidering their beliefs and causes them to ignore warning signs.
  4. Shared Stereotypes – lead members of the in-group to ignore or even demonize out-group members who may oppose or challenge the groups’ ideas.
  5. Self-censorship – causes people who might have doubts to hide their fears or misgivings.
  6. Direct Pressure – to others to conform ensures that those who question the group are seen as disloyal or traitorous.
  7. Illusions of unanimity – lead members to believe that everyone agrees and feels the same way.
  8. Mind-guards – leads to members screening out disconfirming information.

Recently I came across a quote from a former head of the UK civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, when he was giving evidence into the Iraq war to UK members of parliament. He asked them ‘do you have a culture in which senior officials, ministers and external experts feel it is possible to offer an alternative view to the prevailing wisdom so to avoid groupthink?’

This seems to me to be the crucial question to ask of any organisation or team. However, it rarely is, and it seems that groupthink is often encouraged at the highest levels. Who dare question the emperor’s new clothes?

So, how do groups become so cohesive that they develop groupthink?

  • Groups develop shared norms as they become cohesive and from this a group mindset can develop.
  • A lack of diversity within group membership results in a lack of challenge to assumptions. Often members of an organisation are chosen because they are similar to those already there. We can see this for example in the dominance of white males in positions of power in the western world.
  • Socialisation of new members of a group ensures that a new person to the group conforms to the prevailing mindset.
  • Powerful leadership can result in groupthink when followers become fearful to challenge.

There are numerous examples of groupthink leading to organisations taking bad decisions, particularly in the area of strategy development. One example frequently quoted is when Marks and Spencer expanded into Europe, then had to withdraw some years later having suffered losses. Very many political decisions have resulted from groupthink. This can be seen today in actions currently being taken around the world.

Who amomgst us has not, at some stage in our careers, sat in a meeting listening to a discussion and agreement on a topic while thinking that this is not good, but failed to challenge the decision?

What can you do to avoid groupthink?

  1. Ensure there is diversity in the group. Stereotyping develops when the group is from the same background. Recruit for a diversity in thinking. Invite outsiders in if the group is too similar in nature.
  2. Allow space for individual thinking and encourage all to share their ideas.
  3. Establish ground rules of openness and challenge within groups. Build in processes such as regular action reviews where lessons can be learned from actions taken.
  4. Encourage the use of creative techniques which encourage seeing something from a different perspective.

What other actions would you recommend?

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently published a book on creativity for leaders with Dr. Tracy Stanley, entitled Creativity Cycling .

Better Brainstorming and how to achieve it

Last month I wrote about stage 1 of the creative problem solving process (CPS). Today’s post is about the second stage, exploring options to resolve the problem.

The first part of this stage 2 is to open up to all possible approaches to resolving the problem. There are many techniques which you can use to do this, and a lot of them are based upon brainstorming.

Brainstorming is something that is much abused and  I want to share with you ways in which you can improve it.

Brainstorming

Let’s start with your experience. I am certain that you will have experienced that time when someone has suggested that you all brainstorm a topic. It might be, for example, ideas for the next marketing campaign, or ways of handling customer feedback.

So, it goes something like this –‘lets brainstorm’ -then you all get together and throw a few ideas out. One of the ideas gets picked up and a discussion follows. During this process you may not have noticed that one of the more introverted members of the team is very quiet. At the end of the 15 minutes allocated, you have a direction to move on, however is it the best? and have all members of the team felt that they have been heard? I would bet that the answer is no these questions.

Continue reading “Better Brainstorming and how to achieve it”

A picture tells a thousand words

Last month I wrote about the Creative Problem Solving process (CPS) and its importance in tackling complex problems. Picking up from there, I will now review the first stage of the CPS process, which is to gain an understanding of the problem. This stage consists of a divergent followed by a convergent phase as shown in the diagram here.

This is crucial because often the wrong problem is ‘solved’ if there is not  enough time spent on determining the true nature of the problem.

A typical example could be the following:

You have been told that there is a problem with the productivity of a team who also have a high level of absenteeism. The team leader has assumed that the problem is to do with levels of motivation. She has asked for them to be offered an increase in pay as a solution as this team are crucial in the setting up of a new product line.  After a process of fully exploring the problem, it is established that the levels of motivation are low.  However this is considered to be  an effect, not the cause of the problem. The cause is that the team have been recruited with a low level of competencies needed for the current tasks they are performing.

Continue reading “A picture tells a thousand words”

Why Creative Problem Solving?

It was widely reported that in 2016 the World Economic Forum cited creativity as one of the top 3 skills organisations would need by 2020. The top skill which has been consistent in their reporting is critical problem solving.

Critical problem solving is much improved when a dose of creativity is added because many organisations get stuck in loops of thinking.  The saying, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’ is so true.

Creative problem solving is an approach that offers opportunities to develop both critical thinking and creative approaches to problems. The result is that better and different solutions may be identified.

Continue reading “Why Creative Problem Solving?”

Risk and why it is important for Creativity

Risk is a part of life: something we all live with. Some people are more comfortable with risk, others have no choice. However. I propose that for change, development, creativity and innovation, a level of healthy risk is essential.

Risk and Fear

Risk, however, can bring with it feelings of fear. As I write this I remember reading the book by Susan Jeffers, Feel the fear and do it anyway . It had a very positive effect on me at a time in my life when I was about to leave a full-time job in one country for an uncertain freelance career in another. The fear around risk is that we may fail. However, if we never take a risk, we may never live life at our best.

This fear of failure is prevalent in organisations.  Failure is often punished and the consequences of this is a reluctance to start or try anything new or different. This is detrimental to creativity and innovation. As people and as organisations, without taking a risk, we cannot develop and change. To enable creativity and innovation risk is essential.

Continue reading “Risk and why it is important for Creativity”

Assumptions and how to challenge them

What are Assumptions?

On a daily basis we all make assumptions. Some are conscious however many of them are unconscious. Those that are unconscious have become habitual ways of thinking.

Assumptions serve a useful purpose

They provide a short cut in our thinking. For example, I assume that health professionals care about my health when I go to see them. I don’t need to think this through, although with any new practitioner I may be wary and check out my assumptions in advance by seeking feedback from others. On the other hand if I am walking down a city street at night and I hear footsteps coming up behind me I assume that I could be in danger and start to react.

What happens when we make assumptions?

We often receive self-confirming feedback. Perhaps not always in the case of the danger at night, thank goodness. However, if we assume that someone is going to act towards us in a positive way then we show this in our attitude towards them and it normally gets reciprocated. Equally if we assume someone will be hostile, our actions show this and this is also often reciprocated.

The Ladder of Inference

I have written previously about assumptions and referred to a framework called a Ladder of Inference first proposed by  Chris Argyris.  Continue reading “Assumptions and how to challenge them”

The Importance of Mindsets

Have you ever wondered why some people always respond in the same way in certain situations? In the workplace, when faced with change, one response often heard is ‘well we have already tried this, and it didn’t work’.

Another is ‘yes that’s a good idea but…

What is a Mindset?

These responses are signs of a mindset. The mindset in this example is that of a having a negative response to the world around us. Although an overworked cliche, it’s the way of seeing the world as a glass half empty rather than a glass half full. Continue reading “The Importance of Mindsets”

Habits that inhibit success for women

It seems that every day I receive an email offering advice on habits. The popularity of neuroscience has spurned an interest in how our brains work and what we can do about it. Habits are such simple things. Developed over time, they become enduring and quite resistant to change. They serve a purpose for us, in that they short-cut the need to think about how we behave in certain situations, and they reap rewards when that purpose is served. Continue reading “Habits that inhibit success for women”

Going with the Flow v. Setting Goals

Going with the FlowThe start of a New Year always brings out a lot of advice on setting goals and making New Year resolutions, so in this post I am going to discuss some of the issues I see with setting goals and compare the rational, logical approach of setting SMART goals to the more intuitive approach of ‘going with the flow’.

On  a personal note I have always been a bit averse to the setting of goals, especially the setting of SMART  goals. However I confess to spending some time at the start of every year reflecting on my future path. As a strong P in MBTI terms, setting actual goals seems to be a constraint too far and I feel much more in tune with the concept of going with the flow! Continue reading “Going with the Flow v. Setting Goals”