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Ideas Archives - Garrett's Change Management Blog

Change, Energy and the First Day of School


First day of school for kids has to be the best example of instant energy.

The roads are busier (really busy that day with all the parents rearranging their schedules to get in late), the schools themselves are buzzing and, at least here, where there are countless places to walk to and hang out, the first half day makes our main street a landing-place for amped up activity.

You hear lots of voices laughing, talking, sharing experiences and switching gears from relaxed to excited to (tomorrow) intensity.

The Change Segue

Translate all that into the scenario that leaders, practitioners, consultants that think change is a marketing exercise and the adult cheerleaders in organizations try (emphasis on try here) to create. They look to big town hall announcements, splashy videos and talking heads “shorts” of executives working on their happy faces to get the same kind of thing we see on the first day of school every year.

And let’s face it every school year is a transformation for a child.

Why are these two environments so different?

Look at what the first day of school has to offer and see if you can think of ways to have, get or create that for corporate change.

Or maybe look at why corporate change does not have these things…

  • A new beginning
  • A promise of the next step
  • An acknowledgment of success
  • A traditional social event
  • A little mystery and a little of the unknown

New Beginnings

While sometimes scary and always a huge challenge, each grade in school is a new beginning.

But that is not really true.

Each grade is part of a ladder and a process to get to an end state. Every grade builds on the next.

Why does it seem like a new beginning?

Kids get new friends. Yes but they also have some of last years friends in their classes.

Kids get to do some things their older siblings got to do.

Kids get to be older, better, more mature at each new level.

Next Steps

Kids get to move up to the next step.

Kids get to leverage the things they learned from previous teachers with tougher, more challenging work.

Kids, after the school year moves on a little, get peeks and glimpses of what the next, next step is.

Kids know they will get to try new things with the yearly change.

Kids also know they will get new kinds of reinforcement, accolades and kudos (more like the kind adults get- with each passing grade).


Kids know they will be good at new things.

They also quickly see how much they DO know already. Previous success (from hard work) get revisited at the start of every year). My fourth grader blazed through flash cards at the speed of light last night, with a smile and a snicker on her face the whole time.

Success and acknowledgment of achievement (even if it is only internal to the individual) carries a TON of energy with it.

The first day of school puts millions of versions of that in the collocated environments.

Social Events

That first day, every year, certainly is a social event.

It is for the kids. It is for the parents (judging by the number of combinations of supporting adults I saw today- parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, partners and neighbors). It is for the teachers too (we have one in our house- this day is always happy).

It is important to realize that the first day is a repeated event around the world that has happened since the first time learning was organized into a group. Imagine the millions of different versions of tradition that happen on this day.

Just stand in the halls of a school and listen to those supporting parents tell of….” I remember when I…”, “My dad used to… on the first day of school”, “My family on the first day always…”.

Each year, I bet, thousands more traditions are started. My seventh grader got up early (with a schedule in 15 minute increments) to be ready so that she could cook the family breakfast.

Bring on some more new traditions!

The Unknown

OK. So if the first day of school is so scary- you know CHANGE, new faces, new challenges, concern about teachers, lots of rules to have to follow, new processes and procedures, a distinct system of measurement for success- then how come it is so exciting and fun?

It almost feels like the kids are looking FORWARD to the unknown…

The first day of school is nothing like environments of corporate change. Not the new beginning, the chance to move to next steps, the acknowledgment of success, the social event component or the excitement of the unknown. Nope not the same at all…Right?

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Beware the Opportunist


This little note is spinning around LinkedIn picking up “likes” as it goes.

See my, “Half Full or Half Empty- Change Management and Perception” version.

This is funny from four angles and an extra:


Sees the glass full.

In fact, as I mentioned in my previous post, sometimes thinks they can WILL the glass full.

When the opportunist succeeds the optimist cries. When the opportunist fails (and there is always a measure of failure against action focused approaches) the optimist sighs. I am an optimist. I sigh a lot. I, personally, get no pleasure (well not much) out of failure due to lack of planning.

The optimist becomes a Realist when they begin to see that end state of a full glass and realize the long path to get there.


Sees the glass half empty.

And, as mentioned in the previous post, sometimes swears they can see the water going down.

When there is failure the Pessimist gets affirmation. When there is success luck and superstition are often cited as the success factors.

A Pessimist becomes an Optimist, and maybe a Realist, when they, one day get a chance to drink the water from the full glass. It has to be the kind of water that has the taste they like. Otherwise, (see luck above).


Sees the glass for what it is.

‘Could be half full, ‘could be half empty, “why dwell on that?”.

A practical or pragmatic Realist may use some measure to decide whether something needs to be done about this glass thing.

A Realist becomes an Optimist when they value a full glass and then see the water rise. Vice versa for becoming a Pessimist. A Realist can turn into an Opportunist fast if those measurements look enticing and they think they can get a head start on the competition.


Sees the water.

The glass is just the vessel.

Is this person our hero or antagonist? (Or the pest that steals stuff from the garden at night?).

Change guy view: if action is needed it is great to have the opportunist around. If thought should prevail for a better end state then the opportunist can actually become a saboteur.

Opportunists (the title hints of this) tend to do things from a selfish or self-centered perspective. Did they share the water? Not likely. Did they use the empty glass as leverage for something (possibly, Opportunists do tend to be able to make something out of nothing… salespeople ring a bell)?

In the end, as our note suggests, the water is gone with the Opportunist thirst quenched and snickering.

The score on the note- Optimist lost big time, Pessimist is now right and Opportunist took advantage of the other two.

Beware the Opportunist those of you who ponder possibility or failure.

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Insignificant Significance


Today is a day like no other (and the same as any other day).

Never again-EVER- will we have a date that is the same three numbers. That is pretty significant.

Sure we will have dates that can be read in order like 11/12/13 but never the same number three times. Which is significantly insignificant.

What significance does this have for change?


…unless we want to make it significant.


Up high on the list of things that get in the way of change is corporate strategy. Even more so corporate strategy tied to functional strategy/implementation.

It seems leaders just refuse to prioritize in a way that has any meaning. Instead we get the vision statement, a set of “pillars” and an almost uncountable number or projects, programs and processes, some with names, some huge nameless efforts, that fall within the pillar categories.

I talk a lot about context. I have not addressed priority. My advice is to start talking a lot about priority to address context.

What you may have seen as insignificant- hey we gave them the pillars- is VERY significant (if there are levels of significance) to stakeholders/employees.

Assigning Importance

The same as prioritizing strategy, but for this- everywhere.

Assign importance in project work. Assign importance for performance development. When it comes to change assign importance to aspects of the end state.

If you are not good at this and have a few fails then practice rearranging importance. Adjusting can be just as powerful as doing it right the first time.

True everything that happens in your organization is significant. Assigning importance might be subjective, but it works.

You can’t tell me you didn’t react to 12/12/12 as a significant thing (and then try to figure out why).

Shining a Light

Sometimes you just have to turn the bright light on things.

I spent some time in the crawl space of my house last weekend running cable for a home theater. Over and over I tried to get the first screw into a bracket using the natural light coming in from the vent. Over and over I failed. It was amazing how simple it became when I pulled out a flashlight and lit that screw up! For a short second that screw was the most significant part of the project.

12/12/12 use today as your incentive to make something insignificant suddenly SIGNIFICANT- strategy focus, assigning importance to something or just cranking up the light on one simple task.

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Change Management Informality- A List of 6

Change Management has gone through some stages (and has many left).

Early on it was OD, Organizational Development. Changing was about development and skills.

That led to theories and research based on motivation, systems and efficiency. That period felt very formal, very theory based (which is usually true when a pursuit is exploring and building credibility).

The heaviness of theory led to “theories” based on other things. The Kubler-Ross five stages fad comes to mind.

At some point in any pursuit a vacuum of possibility opens up and things get really informal. Someone comes up with an approach that is simple, easy to communicate and so very sell-able. (With the knowledge we have now I would not urgently rush out to follow certain approaches). This thing that fills the vacuum is marketed as simple and sold as a model. (In my hidden example 8 steps that HAVE to be in order). Simple models with great marketing support always grab evangelists. That is when it gets formal as they insist on sticking to the model despite any signs that things might not be working.

Success breeds competition (and lack of success for the first wave makes for more competitors). MORE models come along for change management. If you can come up with a new shape, color or diagram (see 91 to 134 on this list) you have your change model.

Then comes the backlash to the formal. No model fits everywhere. Smart change leaders began to ask themselves, “what do I REALLY need to do to get this to work”. The answer is often informality. Can you connect in person with more people? Can you support anything you are doing formally with informal connection? Can you get to the individual level more?

The Informal List:

  1. The change owner to individuals. This is the most difficult and most effective.
  2. Others to individuals. Call them “Change Champions” if you want. Just make sure their connection is honest and truly connects end states to work and vice versa.
  3. Individuals to individuals. Causing this to happen means you are doing the right thing… or not. Word travels fast. Set up an approach that takes advantage of that. And, yes, support that with a formal structure.
  4. Individual to group. Brown bag lunches, surprise executive visits, informal Q & A sessions, anything that casually presents the change and allows for interaction.
  5. Integrated in to operations. There are times when it makes sense to separate out change. There are many times when it makes sense to smartly integrate the change process into the regular operational process. Your change will need to hang on and sustain at some point. It makes sense to start the integration at the most informal level- day to day work.
  6. Re rinse. This is a list of five that can repeat itself. Going back again with each informal approach carries new information and brings back the interpretation of that content, explanation and dialogue.

Change Management has gone from unnamed soft skills and development to theories, fads, models and an informal backlash. This list of 6 informal ideas will help you through the current change wave.

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More Ways to Say “Change Management”

There are a lot of synonyms for change. We are in the “m’s” now:

Metamorphosis Management

Horizontal Change’s most popular post End State Focus uses a butterfly as an example of a change worth imagining and getting to (for the caterpillar in the metaphor).

Lots of change is transformational.

Were I to use Metamorphosis Management as a term it would be sparingly (not just because it is a little clunky). In the same way the word transformation needs to be used carefully. Both are one state to the next. Neither necessarily has transition spots in between. Maybe the cocoon, maybe some distinct spot in the timeline of behavior change for a stakeholder.

The carefulness in the use of the term should come from the knowledge that complete transformation constantly compared to the initial state makes no sense. The caterpillar has no idea what it means to be a butterfly. So comparisons make no sense, and so too “transitions”.

Good Metamorphosis Management would have stakeholders seeing, feeling, understanding and imagining being in, end states. There own little butterfly metamorphosis.

Modification Management

This one jumps out as something that might have to do with change that requires new behavior. Although on second thought that is a little psychologically creepy.

What this could be a term for is the process of tweaking lots of small things to make something bigger stronger and better.

It might be technical modification for change. It might be small behavior modification (simple things like shorter coffee breaks- or better, same length but always in conversation). It might be pattern and habit change, both for people and behaviors and for structural status quo.

Modulation Management

I admit I had to look up the actual meaning of modulation (I was close). One is to regulate proportion. The other to change pitch and tone in music.

Oh so many times proportions are controlled for change. Budget has its own modulation dial. Effort from stakeholders has an invisible dial (good luck finding it and getting it to actually work when you do). Leaders certainly modulate their ownership of change. Practitioners do not always modulate their communication- yes you CAN over communicate.

There are lots of times when I wish I had a modulation dial for change so I could do a little Modulation Management. I would sometimes turn things up and other times down. In rare cases stakeholders figure things out and do that on their own.

The tone version is to regulate silly sense of urgency. Urgency that appears on its own (I like to call excitement and sense of purpose) doesn’t need much management. You could say that kind has the perfect pitch.

Mutation Management

Mutation Management is funny.

This must be what you do when things get out of hand.

When the evolution of mistakes, missteps and wasted effort increases beyond your ability to control you need Mutation Management.

When the organization has grown arms, legs and tentacles that really serve no function and do not belong, the change itself may be an exercise in the management of mutations.

Novelty Management

I know what this one must be.

Too many ideas. Too many “cooks in the kitchen”.

Or maybe it is practitioners, or worse newly “named” internal consultants, trying stuff.

Believe me when it comes to change and the necessity to get to end states the novelty of new stuff to practice and try wears thin.

That is when you need Novelty Management.

It would nicely reward effort while directing energy and participation into places that tie into end states.

Today is our change synonym list for some big change, little changes, alien changes and the flood of ideas. The list gives us some new terms for “change management”.

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A Synonym for Change

There is a lot of push back lately over the term change management. Some of that is consultants heavy on the marketing and branding approach just trying to tweak the conversation in their direction. Some of it is pushing against templated styles that reduce flexibility and push change into the middle of the organization (with little leadership support- in fact I would swear at times those approaches are picked so that leaders CAN disconnect). Some of it is over the word “management”. Do you really “manage” change?

So I got to thinking, “what would it look like if we changed the word change in this term?”.

Let’s try some change synonyms:

something made different; alteration

about-face, addition, adjustment, advance, break, compression, contraction, conversion, correction, development, difference, distortion, diversification, diversity, innovation, metamorphosis, modification, modulation, mutation, novelty, permutation, reconstruction, refinement, remodeling, reversal, revision, revolution, shift, surrogate, switch, tempering, transformation, transition, transmutation, turn, turnover, variance, variation, variety, vicissitude


About-face Management

This one definitely does not work for anything.

Yet many change initiatives and approaches by focusing on the present and comparing the change to that perspective do just this- create a constant about face for the change.

Fixing that does take a lot of management…

Addition Management

This could be our merger or growth term.

If the change is making things bigger- space, number of people, new products, new service, overall corporate expansion in a quick way- then this is a good term.

At least it is positive.

More, in the context of business, seems like a good thing.

It does sound like a term an elementary teacher would use though.

Adjustment Management

Maybe this is that small sort of change that happens within projects.

A little tweak here, a little enhancement there, to make process and collaboration work better. That is certainly adjustment management.

It doesn’t sound as scary as CHANGE management (who knows what that might mean… to me personally as a stakeholder…).

Advance Management

This one I like, but not for the change version of the meaning. I like it for the potential for front loading change.

There are so many things that are missed by organizations contemplating big change. I’m not sure if it is because they have an internal focus with no eyes to see a broader picture, or they are in  a hurry, or weak strategic process, or a misunderstanding (or a marketed change approach) of organizational change management. Sometimes it is all of the above.

Advance management would not be, necessarily, change readiness or stakeholder outreach/inclusion or the communication plan or the training plan, it would be a process that clearly defines the end state and all the pieces necessary to have that in place.

In our current world of change Advance Management comes before “change management” rather than replacing it.

Change can take many forms. It turns out we also have many words for it- a little like Eskimos and snow. The list will continue tomorrow…

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Specific Tactical Changes- Email

I talk a lot about addressing structural issues that will slow or stop change. I had not thought of finding things at the individual level to improve to make change easier- until I found this post:

“Building a Social Business: Start with Email Changes” by Rachel Happe at the Community Roundtable.

We need to fix what is currently broken for individuals before we can expect them to contribute back to our organizations in meaningful ways. Email inboxes are ground zero.

Rachel Happe

The post was meant as an operational ROI list, but would be an excellent tactical to do for the start of any enterprise initiative.

Some tasty tidbits:

  1. Cancel status update meetings. “Schedule meetings only when an issue cannot be resolved through the group conversation in the network.” Music to my ears!
  2. Post documents rather than sending as attachments. This is HUGE timesaver at the individual desktop organization level, for server space and collaboration (and transparency). You can still put access requirements on draft documents (I do that with SharePoint on many of my initiatives).
  3. Teach email. Email is one of those things that you are expected to understand. That perspective creates all the same patterns- bcc’s, disjointed conversations (change the subject for Outlook and the conversation thread is broken- most employees do not know that) and lots of repetition (not to mention unanswered questions).

My additions to the list:

  1. Create and use clean well designed templates that quickly show who is sending, what the message is and whether or not an action is in order.
  2. Set parameters for what kind and how much information needs to be shared. (A lot of email is the “cover your tracks” kind).
  3. If the information to be shared by email works better visually (as a video or screen grabs for example) then create that message, post it and avoid email all together.

When it comes to change these tactical operational tweaks can avoid repetition, make the exchange of information a consistent process and reduce redundancy.

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Bring Some Bill Clinton to Your Change

President Obama jokes about making Bill Clinton  “the Secretary of Explaining Stuff”.

The more I think of this, and of President Clinton’s clear, factual explanation at this years Democratic National Convention, the more I see this as a possible role within change. Change, like politics, can get pretty muddled. It is often hard to figure out what is up, down, forward, backward or sideways.

In a perfect world the Owner fills this role. Typically this responsibility falls to the Implementary Leader. I could see mini “Under Secretary” roles helping out for the real specific, functional stuff. Any version would help- explaining, when it comes to change, is a good thing.

Here is where you might need a Secretary of Explaining Stuff:

  • Right at the Change Idea
  • Along the Way
  • When things get Muddled
  • At the End of the Change Timeline

Right at the Change Idea

Crafting end state descriptions may not fall under the explanation category- I think of explaining as going over something that has already happened. Creating end states does require a little analysis, some looking back and understanding of current and past organizational business practices. Having an expert available for each of these explanations goes a long way toward crafting an end state view that makes sense.

If the change is coming about because of some nasty, bad stuff (reactionary change), then certainly an explanation is in order. Explanations make it easy to hold that bad thing still, look at it clearly and figure out what that means for the future.

Along the Way

There is always explaining to do along the way.

There is the explaining of the end state- at this point some end state descriptions have been crafted, which means they will need to be represented. As soon as anything happens there may be the need for explaining. The same is true right before things begin. When something goes wrong explaining is essential (and usually avoided- in Clinton’s case there is the explaining of a current presidents record and the reminder that the most recent leader left quite a mess). In those cases it would be nice if the explaining came from those who made the mistake(s) (explaining not blaming).

When things get Muddled

Muddled is different than something gone wrong.

Muddled is when things get confusing. This usually happens because the preliminary steps of end state descriptions, strategy and planning were skipped or came up short. In our example here it could very well be because there never was any explaining.

In a muddled scenario explaining is often the key to understanding, both the nature of the muddle and the perspective and connection of the people involved.

At the End of the Change Timeline

Hopefully the explanation is a wrap up.

A wrap up and possibly an introduction to the next effort.

I have been on some chopped off engagements where a huge change was just stopped. Those explanations are more “what if” than anything else.

A good explanation at the end would look at where you were, tell a little story around that, show how you addressed the idea or the reason for the change, stroll along the change path with examples of expertise used, call out obstacles overcome or not and weave it all together for a soft landing of satisfaction.

Explaining is good. It helps to create end states. It helps to encourage participation. It is an avenue to address problems and mistakes. It can serve as the fabric for a final story. It can even open the window for what if discussions. In fact there is some much explaining that can be done with big change. It makes sense to have a “Secretary of Explaining Stuff”.

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The One Thing Change Management Needs

  1. A way to communicate that works.

“Works” means messages get to the right people, are read and there is a conduit back and forth for information.

Change Management is by no means communication (nor training). And no one ever changed a behavior because of a good single message (languaging maybe). But no communication, or communication that lands on deaf ears, is failed change management. Even if everything else is in place- a committed owner, tweaked structure to support the new end state, available resources and cash- change is impossible without the ability to relay information back and forth.

Here is what tends to happen:

Communication gets filtered heavily and loses the change message (and connection), change comms. are mixed in with all the other organizational noise using the same status quo delivery vehicles and the delete keys get worn down.

What should happen:

When a change message goes out, it lands in a place where everyone goes to find out about change. Since right time, right person, right length messaging is being used stakeholders do read, do understand and do act if necessary (and do interact back through the conduit if anything is not understood).

Here is how this could happen:

(Disclosure: I have not seen this yet. This is my own imaginary end state for some lucky client somewhere).

The messages appear during boot up instead of the operating system screen. (Comically, I have had 10-15 minute boot ups with client equipment- lots of time to read the messages AND get a cup of coffee… or two).

The message hyperlinks supporting documents.

The message hyperlinks take the user to a Portal where everyone knows change information is posted.

That Portal is monitored, watched, seeded and added to by change team members- always with the stakeholder and time in mind. (Hyperlinks to detail if more information has to be posted). That place, Portal/website/SharePoint, has an avenue for information exchange (or many avenues- blog, discussion, FAQ etc.). That Place is pretty, easy to use, makes sense and is lightly (if at all) branded.

Yes I know some version of this exists in almost every organization. But there are overlaps with operations. There are endless filters to reduce effectiveness. And that “when you boot up” opportunity is not used. (NetPresenter if your curiosity is peeked).

Change Management needs a way to communicate that works. Boot up messages, a landing place for change exchange and graphical useful interfaces is the fix.

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Sprinkled High Level Change



This salt sprinkled for change video is amazing.

We are borrowing it for today’s analogy.

Real change, anything bigger than a contained project, rarely succeeds. Things usually do get better, but they could have gotten much better. Many, many things get in the way. The best way to get all change to be successful is to address high level structure. Separate change from rules, or change the rules first to accommodate change and new end states.

That is a big undertaking which requires the highest level support (and lots of individual behavior change in the middle of the organization).

What about sprinkling some of those high level change techniques and tactics throughout the organization? Blasphemy I speak (to my own opinion), but perhaps that will trickle up (also influencing up) at some point? Small tiny steps here and there with a grand scheme of a plan (that will, of course never be 100% successful like change itself- ANY success is some success right?).

Some simple sprinkle suggestions:

  1. A talking head video,

    somewhere, especially if that has never been done before. I have had this be almost an initiative in itself for some engagements just getting past all the gates- even when the actual leader was all for it. A little personalization somewhere. A little voice added to some project is a difference.

  2. Mentoring

    single individuals in a strategic place. Borrow from Kotter and create your own change champion. In this case you are creating a champion for change itself (and in a perfect world someone who understands end state back instead of gap-filling-change-management, Kotter borrowed for something better).

  3. Create change management meeting segments

    Get project managers to allot time within regular meetings for change updates. Don’t just tell them what you did, tell them WHY. Teach them in little teeny pieces. Knowledge is power and when it comes to change comfort is a lubricant.

  4. When you create deliverables add notes

    I have been doing this a lot in engagements of late to try to transfer my knowledge and to do a little “sprinkling” myself. I use notes sections in Microsoft project, Excel and Word to explain the things that are included in the document. Using show or hide gives the reader the option of learning or not. If you do not do this then, of course, they have no way to learn. The grand scheme would have a change management primer. That takes time and must pass gates. You can get those notes in without any review. (Just like “my book is in this blog” so too your primer will be in those notes).

  5. Pilot one clean change program

    No this is not really a sprinkle. If you can somehow get the organization to do a single change with rules stripped, ownership committed for some smaller smart change, you will have a sample to hold up to the light. Get the right amount of time created, something close to the right budget and some talented and energetic team members and shoot for 100% of your end state (for that change not the big one that gets this sprinkle to spread to the rest of the organization- that is later :-).

Maybe it makes sense to set aside the grand scheme of an organization that has few impediments to change and has an approach that can take advantage of that smooth path. Maybe sprinkling small versions of that or even the pieces of it is an option. A talking head, mentoring, time to teach, notes and one small change chance are your five tips for sprinkled change.

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