December 12, 2012
I’ll be offering this week long workshop at the week long “Friends General Conference” gathering this summer. But I’d love to work with anybody about how Quaker-ish process might work in any secular setting.
“We’ll explore ways in which something akin to a Quakerlike process can be used for secular decision making, and how it brings clarity and community to the life of non-profit organizations and even to for-profit companies. What’s left of Quaker process without it’s emphasis on spiritual discernment? Come and find out!”
November 12, 2012
“Hurry up and finish speaking, so I can tell you why you’re wrong!”
Have you ever found yourself thinking such a thought, instead of really trying to grasp what truth might be said? Of course, such impatient waiting is not true listening, and rarely serves us well. It leaves us poised for a fight, rather than ready for insight, understanding, and growth.
Listening is a critical skill in all of our lives. In business we’re concerned with management, supervision, marketing, sales — all tasks involving relationships. We need to listen to employees, managers, customers and potential customers, suppliers, stockholders, neighbors — all those who are impacted by our policies and operations.
October 26, 2012
I’ve been aware of much work on personal communication styles — how we each can best receive support, advice, criticism, support, validation, etc. And, of course, there are various personality models that help us understand all these things.
But I’m aware of much less work characterizing organizations. Thus I set about to put together this simple model. I present it here as something in process, for discussion and validation only. Please add your commentary. And if you’rereading this through another blog or medium (such as a LinkedIn group discussion), please make sure that you post here any comments that you post there as well .
I characterize organizations along two dimensions:
Traditional . . . Visionary
Weighty . . . Agile
And the, for each quadrant, I’ve assigned a name:
A traditional organization, that has some agility but not vision, is Awkward.
A traditional organization, that is more weighty than agile, ia probably Stuck.
A visionary organization, that remains weighty, is truly Reaching.
And, finally, an organization that is both visionary and truly agile is truly Creative.
Although I suggest that this characterization is for organizations, it may better fit organizational segments, perhaps a department or work group.
How helpful is this model? Are the quadrant names appropriate and helpful? And how useful is this picture to you? Please comment.
October 12, 2012
How often we try to solve a problem in the terms first presented to us. Occasionally this works. But very often the statement of the problem is self-limiting, and tends to steer us away from finding a real solution. Or — and this is just as problematic — we may re–phrase a problem in limiting and perhaps misleading terms.
Not long ago I changed the e-mail address at which I receive notices from what had been a very active mailing list. Instantly, I noticed that incoming mail from that list had stopped. What was going on? Was there a spam filter? I realized that I’d changed the list settings before creating my new email account. Had the list sent mail to the momentarily non-existent email address, and then turned me off? What other scenarios could lead to such an email blockage. I worked diligently on this problem, sought the assistance of the list owner and of several list participants, but got nowhere. A whole weekend went by, but no solution appeared.
And then the email I wanted started to flow. It turned out that this once-active list had experienced a significant decline in traffic, and there had been absolutely no messages during the whole weekend. Come Monday there was a trickle of emails on the list — and they all came through to me just as they were supposed to.
In fact I had originally seen the problem as, “No emails coming through”. But then I had quickly rephrased it into a question that I thought would be more helpful — “What is blocking my emails?” And holding on to that paradigm had blinded me to the very simple solution — “There were no emails for anybody”.
Recently a colleague shared with me her concerns about the board of the small nonprofit that she directs. We immediately began talking about various training programs or board retreats that might make the board a more functional support for this nonprofit and for its director. It felt appropriate for us to talk about the possible agenda for such training, whether it should be for all board members or just those on the executive committee, etc. Our unspoken paradigm was that the board didn’t understand its best role, and so wasn’t behaving in the most productive manner. Bring about the required understanding or attitude and the problem would be fixed, we believed.
It took quite a while for us to step back and reformulate the problem, into the simple statement, that “The board is not serving the role needed by the organization and its director”. And with this understanding we could ask whether, in fact, the right people were serving on the board, whether the personal benefits they sought from board service were consistent with the organization’s situation, and whether there were any positive models of board service within the board’s recent history. Board training (in the conventional sense) remained one possible option, but not the only option.
Another organization that I’ve worked with found that they weren’t taken seriously when seeking large contributions. They struggled to produce clearer descriptions of their programs, that they were sure would excite potential major donors. The new materials were better, and did attract more small donations. But they didn’t solve the problem — major donors were still holding back. It turned out that the public financial statements were unclear and inadequate. This didn’t bother small contributors, but were a real concern to major donors. A new treasurer was able to produce much clearer financial reports, and larger contributions began to flow.
In each of these cases the relevant people heard a statement of the visible problem, but made assumptions as they translated it into a limiting reformulation. Letting go of those assumptions and asking anew what was the real problem turned out to be the key.
The moral here is simple: Our first question should always be, “What is the problem?”. And we need to answer that in the most primitive way, trying to state the problem as seen or experienced, rather than as transformed by some suggestive but often inaccurate assumptions or deductions.
October 4, 2012
M. C. Richards in her book, “Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person” draws on the metaphor of the potter centering a piece of clay. The potter pushes against the clay but leaves space for it to move, until it is well centered on the wheel. At that point the potter can touch one point of the pot and the whole moving piece of clay will respond.
The potter must be careful — for if the clay gets off center a strong touch might pull it apart. Instead, the potter will carefully lead the pot back on center, and then continue working it. Of course there are limits to the strength of the clay, especially when it is wet and heavy. An understanding of this reality must moderate the potter’s touch.
Similarly, we need to re-center ourselves as we begin any meeting, or even any task. Left unchecked, we may drift or get pulled away from where we need to be. We may find that we’ve taken a wrong turn, or gotten off the trail and need to find it again. This is not a sign that we are imperfect or inexperienced, but simply that we are human. And when we are on center — everything is possible.
Things don’t always go well. Sometimes “centering down” seems impossible, as laundry lists of tasks and issues keep running through our minds. Undone tasks, complex relationships, or other matters may loom large, and not let themselves be pushed aside even for an hour. Withhold judgment, be prepared to let go, and wait. Let the center find you.
October 4, 2012
There are lots of tests to ensure that web sites have readable type, clearly delineated links, reasonable numbers of elements per page, etc. Web sites can be assessed according to various standards of accessibility, such as for people with motor or visual handicaps. All the information gathered from such tests can be useful – but doesn’t by itself answer the important question, “Does the web site work?”
A web site works when users feel comfortable navigating it, find themselves engaged in the experience, are able to find the information or understanding that they want. It works when users are spared those moments of fear during which they are not sure how to proceed, and are afraid that they will lose their place in some way. It works when the users’ experience is enjoyable, and doesn’t end when the most immediate goal is reached.
But – perhaps most important – a web site “works” when the user is engaged in the virtual conversation that the site owner has tried to create. This might be “Let us help you find the software you need to get your printer working”, or “. . . find the car you need, and can afford”, or “. . . sign up for the education program that will help you meet your life goals.” Of course, a specific client’s goal may be quite different than these examples.
What connects all of these conversations is that they have to do with more than just information – although information is important. They are about a user experience, that promotes engagement, that cements a relationship with the vendor or provider, that instills confidence, and, often, that results in continued sales. A colleague of mine once said, “If you want to use social media, you need to be social”, and I find this dictum a very helpful guiding principle for all web development and evaluation.
Imagine a web page for the car manufacturer, that offers three choices:
• Daisy models
• Tulip models
• Amaryllis models
While these names may be perfectly clear to those very familiar with this carmaker’s line, their presence would probably be intimidating to many users. “How do I know where to begin?”, they would ask themselves, and would then feel that they are just making a guess on one of these three.
Now consider an improvement on this:
• Our basic line – the Daisy series
• Adding features and elegance – our Tulip series
• The car you’ve dreamed of owning – the fine Amaryllis series
This removes the ambiguity for users not familiar with the car models. In that sense it’s probably “correct”. But what kind of relationship does it establish with the user? What’s the conversation? It’s simply, “We have these cars. You can learn about them here.” That’s not the conversation that will create eager buyers, or will sell many cars.
So, lets imagine a stronger approach, designed to really engage the user:
• Configure your Daisy model – a basic car, for any budget.
• Configure your Tulip – offering you more comfort, style, and class.
• Configure your Amaryllis – and be so proud of the car you’ll be driving.
Here we have a strong invitation to the website user to really try out one of these cars, start looking at colors, options, etc. The language here may not be exactly right, but I expect most of us would still find this third option the most likely one to win friends and initiate sales. It invites a relationship that must, of course, be continued in the rest of the web site interaction.
In the examples above we can see at least three aspects of web site usability:
• Users can proceed with clarity and confidence (not made to feel foolish).
• Users learn relevant information about product or service.
• User are drawn in to a conversation, engaging with the vendor.
How can we assess these in a systematic way? As a skilled practitioner, I can certainly review a web site, and offer much constructive feedback. Indeed, much of my role is in offering such expert critique or suggestion.
But such one-person theoretical review has strong limitations. The real test is how the web site works when actually used by typical users. (I may resemble the “typical” printer user or car buyer, but I’m certainly not the typical prospect for a vocational college.) My method is simple to understand, but logistically can be quite complex.
- Clearly identify the persona to be used in testing. (This should have happened during web site design, but often it does not.)
- Define a test script, which the subjects will be asked to perform. (This may be finding some information, assessing several institutions, learning a skill, etc.)
- Determine a performance test, that will be used after the test to see what the subject has learned, their inclination to proceed with the content, their inclination to consider a purchase if there is a sales objective.
- Find the test subjects, using the criteria identified in (1) above. Typically subject will be paid for their time.
- Conduct the test, simply watching each subject, but with no intervention. Sometimes we will video the test as well.
- Conduct the test again, but asking the subjects to annotate their behavior – at each step, say what they are doing, why, and what kind of response they are seeking.
Note that we are never correcting or guiding the subjects – with one exception: If they appear to be lost, we may inquire what they are seeking. We will not answer their question, but will record in detail the dilemma the user reported.
On occasion, we’re called upon to review not just a web site in isolation, but its performance relative to the sites of competing vendors. This might involve simply repeating the test on several sites, or we may devise particular performance tests that measure how subjects rate the various vendors based on the web site experiences.
What I’ve described here may seem quite different from the more analytical evaluation processes often used by other usability consultants. I prefer this holistic approach, in which web sites are evaluated primarily by their performance rather than by an enumeration of characteristics.
Only after going through the testing process might I want to review the statistical data offered by such tools as Google Analytics. These tools are particularly helpful for identifying how users arrive at the site and where on the web site they tend to go. But the tools offer little guidance about the user experience, motivation, relative ease or frustration, etc.
In summary, I recommend, and I practice a holistic evaluation of web sites, in which behavioral goals are clearly identified, and in which silent observers watch users during real interactions with the web site, or in which the observers interact with the users only to identify more completely the user’s experience. Web sites work when they create and engage users in a productive conversation.
Postscript: Usability review is not design review. I’m a very visual person, and appreciate fine typography, uncluttered layout, elegant design. I’d like to believe that these are an important part of web site success. But data suggests that they may not be as important as I would like. In any case, the tests that I’m describing here evaluate how users behave when working with the site, and not how the site appears to its designers or critics.
September 18, 2012
I’m just beginning to design two new “Skillbuilders” (workshops) for the Maine Association of nonprofits. Workshop design comes easy to me, and I’ve a track record of considerable success. Still, I’m expecting to learn significant lessons as we first experience these workshops being presented to live audiences. How can I maximize my learning from these pilot runs? And how can I organize my initial work so that these questions are clear?
My first rule is to always list the goals, and design the evaluation process, before completing the workshop design itself. Just the titles, in this case “Asking Great Questions” and “Crafting Your Elevator Speech”, are not enough.
For example, digging deeper into my “Asking Great Questions” agenda, I began to see such questions as:
• Who should be learning what about the process of creating, editing, and asking questions? (Who is our target audience?)
• What key ideas or understanding do we believe participants in the skillbuilder should take away? (What are we aiming to teach?)
• What experiences (not what lessons) will have make this happen?
• Are there important things that participants may need to un-learn? (What habits, or what blindness, are we trying to overcome?)
Working with such questions early in the workshop conception stage, I began to see that the kinds of questions that might fit into an employment interview are very different from those that we might want to ask of other stakeholders in our organization, of lawmakers or regulatory officials, of teachers or of researchers and guides whom we trust.
With each clarification of the goals comes new clarity about how to observe and measure whether we have achieved those goals. And, so, the evaluation process is built as the workshop is designed. Even more important, the questioning process informs the whole conception of the workshop.
In fact, I needed to create another set of questions, to evaluate my initial description of the Skillbuilder, before even developing the main workshop agenda:
• Who will the description attract, and are these the people I want in this skillbuilder?
• What expectations will the description create, and is this an expectation that I can and want to fulfill?
• The skillbuilder will be require very active participation, and will include little content that can be received passively. Will that be clear and a positive aspect of participant’s experience (or will there be comments about the lack of Powerpoint slides with detailed text guides)?
Thinking about this process led me to look back at the first outline I wrote for an earlier Skillbuilder I had developed with Deb Nelson. Along with my first rough draft outline, I had sent her a memo with a heading “Questions for Us”, and the following content:
• Our goals for the workshop
• What we have to tell or teach vs. participants learning from each other
• How we will know we have succeeded — Key evaluation question
• Possible pitfalls — What should not happen?
• Personal goals — Why we are doing this
Ask yourself these and similar questions as you prepare your presentations, your lectures, your workshops. Even when the answers seem to be obvious and so clear, write them down. Revise that draft copy. And let your questions be your guide.
September 7, 2012
Deb Nelson and I have been teaching a Skillbuilder (workshop) for the Maine Association of Nonprofits entitled “Finding and telling our stories: Bringing our mission and method to life”. It’s about helping people identify stories about their organization that are compelling, illustrative, and can be told in just a few words.
As part of this workshop, we ask participants, “What makes a great story?”. These are some of the answers that we hope to hear (and we usually do):
- The story has a compelling narrative
- It’s not obvious (e.g. you must keep listening)
- It’s accurate, true, really happened
- It can be told with authenticity and authority
- The imagery is vivid.
- It’s culturally relevant for the audience
- It fulfills the right goals for its audience
- It has a real beginning, middle, and end
- It’s suitably short
These are the kinds of stories that we want to tell in describing the work of our organizations — whether in fundraising for a non-profit, marketing a commercial service, or offering an innovative product. Compelling true short stories draw people in, create interest, and communicate most effectively.
September 6, 2012
I was so impressed with this article by George Ambler, that I’m posting this link to the article, The everyday tasks of leadership.
Ambler talks about three major leadership tasks:
- Setting direction (mission, vision, values)
- Building commitment (trust, accountability, cooperation)
- Creating alignment (common ground, shared responsibility)
Are there others that he left out? Do all the significant leadership tasks fit into these three themes? Please share you comments on this blog, and let’s make this a fruitful discussion.
September 6, 2012
Does something sound wrong with this title? Most of us want to trumpet our successes, and hide our mistakes. And yet it’s through important mistakes that we can learn the most important lessons.
With this thought in mind, here’s my “best” mistake. Mark (no, not his real name) had hired me before, as a consultant with two of his companies. And now he was CEO of an interesting multi-division firm, with lots of appeal. He brought me in first to rework systems in a smaller division, and then to work on the major corporate systems. I was doing a great job (or so I thought), even though I was running into resistance. Projects that create change always incite some resistance, so this was not a concern. But then Mark left the firm.
All of the sudden, I was alone, really reporting to nobody. Nobody owned the project that Mark had created. And, not surprisingly, I was asked to leave as well. It wasn’t because of my work, or my results. I was just an orphan, and nobody was a stakeholder in my success there.
What did I learn from this? Well, no longer after he left, Mark referred me to another firm, whose CEO, Peter, was a friend of his. Again, it was the CEO who wanted to hire me, and I was instrumental in his plans to bring the organization to another level. But I didn’t want to repeat the same boom and bust scenario again. So, this is what I set in place:
I insisted that Peter form a management team, to take supervisory responsibility for my work.
Each month, before I arrived for a week of week, they would set the agenda, identify goals, and develop detailed plans to insure that I was given the needed resources.
Then, after I finished my week of work, they would meet and review the results.
My work was valued, and so there were often conflicts about which projects were given to me. I could deflect all of these, pointing to the management team that was setting the agenda.
In short, I created a place for Arthur Fink the consultant in their management chart — even though I was never a full time (or even part time) employee. And even when Peter became the target of criticism for some of his decisions (or lack of decisions), I was well insulated from this political stuff.
Business, and the work of non-profit organizations, is all about relationships. But when your position of tied to one possibly frail connection based on one relationshp, everything is at risk. By creating groups or communities, and establishing relationships with them, one can be better informed and much better protected.
September 5, 2012
I do ask lots of questions, but sometimes I also do provide answers! Here’s are some of the answers I provided to the Linked In “Answers” forums:I
As a nonprofit consultant, which assessment tool(s) do you recommend when trying to understand and evaluate where the organization’s biggest problems lie?
The starting point is not a set of “tools” or automated programs, or report. It’s my own ears, listening to staff, board, and critical stakeholders reporting their understanding of the organization and its issues. And it’s the probing questions I ask, to elicit these comments. Once I’ve identified some core issues, various reports and tools may be relevant. And if the issues are primarily with finances, I may involve other consultants who work more intensively in that area.
Think about getting a good physical exam. After a few simple preliminaries (height, weight, pulse, blood pressure, etc.), the doctor will ask how I’m feeling, will look VERY carefully at my posture, demeanor, coordination, etc., will feel my skin for temperature and moisture, etc. More detailed tests may follow, but they are never the starting point.
How do you personally evaluate speakers you hear?
Great speakers have me engaged. They present memorable images, powerful questions, great metaphors. I don’t have to “evaluate” their performance. Their message stays with me, guides me, informs me. I notice that.
How successful is your donor newsletter at raising money?
I’d be surprised if most donor newsletters succeed at raising money — since that’s not what they are supposed to do. They keep donors and prospects in touch with the organization, cultivate them as stakeholders. Then, when the “ask” comes, the donors or prospects want to support the vital organization that they are so clearly in touch with.
What is your favorite way for nonprofits without alumni to get email addresses?
Just be very careful that you understand “opt in”. An e-mail sent without permission, and without explanation, casts a very bad first impression.
What is the biggest mistake you see new, first time EDs make when working with their Board?
The most common mistake I see new executive directors make is to regard their board as more a burden than an asset. Indeed, it takes work to maintain a board, but a board is a resource to help keep an organization on track, connected, and grounded.
How do you find web developers/designers that are willing to offer Pro Bono services to a NFP?
In most communities, you’ll find an organization that brings together web developers and designers to share skills and insights with each other. Try to identify that group (or those groups) in your area, and ask them to circulate a request from your nonprofit. Be clear what the request is, and include a short statement about why it makes a difference. But do be careful that the skill set you get pro bono is the skill set that you need. A web developer MAY not be the best web designer or web marketing consultant. Interview your pro bono workers just as you would any contractor.
What’s the best accounting software for nonprofits?
One early responder to this question asks, “Why do you think it would be different from any profit making business? ” In many many ways, the needs are the same. But many non-profits need fund accounting, as they keep track of many different grants, contracts, etc. There are packages designed for this, and I’m aware of several add-ons for Quickbooks to provide fund accounting functionality. How important is this for your nonprofit? For many, it’s not important at all. But it makes sense to have on your board at least one person who really understands these issues, and can help guide the organization. As with any software choice, the REAL cost is not the cost of the package — It’s the cost of working with it daily, of putting up with unexpected quirks or lapses in support, and — worst case — of replacing it if a wrong choice was made.
Chartered affiliate organization must file state filing and register for the DOJ and FTB, yet Central Org won’t sign documents, claims it’s unnecessary. Central org does not include chapters in 990 or file a group exemption.
Speak to a lawyer in your state. Informal advice on forums such as this can be valuable in many ways. But it’s no substitute for good professional legal advice. I’m amazed how often people don’t go to the source — and here the source is somebody with the precise legal knowledge.
What is your best tip for leading effective online small group coaching programs?
The key to any individual or group coaching is clarifying goals. Often that’s the full agenda, and its’ repeated again and again. “What are we trying to do?” “Where do we want to be?”. Individual (1-1) coaching may be a useful adjunct to group work. But be careful that people don’t try to use this to point towards others as the source of a problem. The only place that belongs is in the whole group, stated in the most positive way. Yes — accountability is important. I’d suggest that the last part of each session be on “confirming agreements”, and that the first part be on “agreement check in”. I agree that “homework” can be a negative word, even though the concept is great. I might call it “preparation”.”
- Work with staff and their managers to identify the skills on which training is needed. Communicate this clearly to the training group.
- Allow enough time and space for the training to really work. Often going off site is helpful. In any case, staff should be totally free to be present with the training.
- Insure that staff will be able to use the skills they have learned right away. I used to run a technical training department, and was amazed how often staff were sent for training on a new piece of software, but didn’t get to work with it for six months or more. By that time, the value of the training has long been lost.
September 5, 2012
Any consultant wanting to hone his or her skills should read this recent article by Bernard Ross and Sudeshna Mukherjee in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Here are the ten points they list: (For a detailed explanation, read the article!)
Following this list, I’ve added eight more that I believe are at least as important.
* Have self-confidence and be as adept at delivering bad news as good.
* Have a good understanding of the business and of themselves.
* Have transferable skills.
* Have the ability to simplify and explain a problem.
* Have more than one solution to a problem.
* Be a good listener.
* Be a team player.
* Be able to market.
* Gain client trust.
* Remember who’s the star.
And while I agree strongly with all of these, there are more traits that I believe are equally important:
* Be comfortable telling the truth. Clients may just want to hear positive words, expressions of praise. A great consultant is willing to say what needs to be said.
* Be tactful and affirming. Truthtelling doesn’t need to be negative and abrasive. A great consultant can phrase criticism as helpful suggestions, and can lead the client toward constructive action.
* Know how to ask great questions. Great consultants ask great questions. It’s through such questions that we learn what’s really going on, what the client thinks is going on, and what different groups within the client organization think is going on.
* Be willing to play together. You can learn only so much sitting at the conference table. Spending some quality time with the client outside of the office environment is important as well. A great consultant can engage the client in different venues, and, by so doing, learn much ore about motivations, hopes, fears, etc.
* Have lots of integrity. Confidences need to be respected. Promises need to be kept. A great consultant only makes promises that he or she can and will keep.
* Admit mistakes. Great consultants aren’t always right. What’s important is that they take responsibility for the advice they offer, and are willing to acknowledge when it proves to be “off” in any way.
* Love simplicity. Even when Business and organization problems seem quite complex, some simple models will help clients understand. A great consultant and report and prescribe in very simple terms, but will still be ready to address the added complexity that may be part of a full understanding.
* Enjoy the work. Great consultants have fun. Working with clients can be like playing in a sandbox, and helping clients solve their own problems can be like building those sand castles most of used used to create as children. Clients will catch on — that it’s fund to learn, to develop new understanding, to think up new possible solutions, to test ideas, and to work together in a collaborative environment.
April 16, 2012
January 10, 2012
Jodi Flynn (of Luma Coaching) and I have been meeting to share our understanding of the coaching process, of how to facilitate constructive change, and of how we ourselves have gotten more “on track”.
The agenda for our most recent intensive was, “How do I know my goals and actions are in alignment with my authentic self, or my authentic path?” Business coach Mandy Schumaker had posted this question, and we both felt that it was an important starting point for any transformative process.
Jodi was well prepared, with a brilliant list of “red light” and “green light” indicators, that could help us identify when we’re on or off that path. Read her blog entry for more about this very helpful set of questions, and how they might be applied.
What I want to report here concerns that “ah ha” moment, when one of us exclaimed, “It’s all about Spirit”. Both of us have had the experience of feeling actions, writing, images coming through us rather than from us, so it should not have been surprising to hear this affirmation of personal faith.
But what followed was much more radical. I asked Jodi whether this applies to all her clients, and not just those who consider themselves believers of some sort. Without hesitation, Jodi replied, “Absolutely!” She explained that the words may be different, God or Christ or Buddha language may not fit, but that sense that we all connect with some higher power not under our conscious control is primary and universal. It can be a challenge to acknowledge this truth, while not proselytizing a particular expression of it, but we both affirmed that this is possible and necessary.
“What about clients who have much more mundane concerns?”, I asked. “How can I be more effective at work, more engaged in home life, more successful in promoting my own business?” Again, Jodi’s clear response, with which I concur, was that to access our greatest potential we have to look within and whether we acknowledge it or not, that is the process of accessing spirit.
“Spirit” may not be the right word for you, if it bring up old baggage, negative experiences with religion, dogma with which you disagree. Perhaps you’ve a better word for that guiding force, that source, that positive constructive energy that can lead us towards centered grounded action. And your coaching work may appear to stay far from notions of spirit or whatever. But the affirmation that came out of our sharing was that Spirit really is at the center.
December 3, 2011
I recently met with Jodi Flynn (of Luma Coaching) to explore the basis of our coaching work — and that meant talking about how to catalyze change. Thanks to Jodi for much of the content I’ve included in this short post.
Most of us (and so most of our clients), are change averse. Even when we can imagine or understand the benefits of some change in our lives, our organizations, or our relationships, something holds us back. As coaches, we want to open our clients to constructive change. What helps this happen?
We shared several models:
- Comparative pain: We may help our clients realize or understand that the real pain of the status quo is greater than the imagined pain of the change they may be contemplating.
- Pain, perseverance, and gain: Every change involves pain. Things seem harder to do at first, or situations are more awkward. This lasts for a period of perseverance, but then we’re no longer held back. And — the real benefit — after a while there’s a gain over where we were at the beginning. Helping clients acknowledge this rhythm, and project the actual pain, perseverance, and gain, may open them to change. Also, it may be possible to find strategies that control the amount of pain, the or the perseverance period required.
- Fear may increase when we look it in the face. By painting a detailed model of the life we want, the way we want to work, the quality of a relationship, or whatever is the desired subject of change, the positive vision can become so compelling that resistance to change begins to diminish.
- We may not look for change in the parts of our lives that we experience as fixed. In other words, we may not name the need for change until the possibility of change feels real. I offered the example of a married couple, who might declare, “Well, we get along okay.” Seeing no alternative to their current lives, they accept when seems immobile. But upon visiting a marriage counselor, and finding ways to identify issues and work with them, they may revise their assessment to “We never realized how problematic or empty our relationship was!”.
- Empowerment may be the key. When we experience ourselves as the victim of circumstance, as conflicted because of the woes of our lives, as powerless to change our situation, we’ve little energy to invest in change. When we can experience ourselves as responsible, as in a synergistic relationship with the world around us, we become empowered to change our situation. And even though some outside circumstances of our lives may really be fixed and not easily changeable, we can change the way we carry ourselves and relate to that fixed world. So … helping clients understand how they can choose that relationship can open them to change. Jodi spoke of a model leading us from being victim to just being in conflict, then being responsible, becoming of service, acting in reconciliation, existing in synergy, and finally becoming non-judgmental so that we can act much more easily on our own behalf instead of in reaction to the provocation of others or of circumstances. Being able to place ourselves in this spectrum helps us become open to change.
Whether we seek to improve our personal lives, become more effective within their work organizations. develop teams and groups that can better create solutions to social or business problems, nourish relationships or simply build confidence, change is required. How we embrace change, or transform our resistance to it, determines how we will succeed. And understanding models, such as those I’ve shared above, is key to helping people make that transformation.
Blog posts such as this often invite just minor comments of appreciation or disagreement. But I do hope that this one will start a more vital discussion. What has helped you overcome your resistance to change? And how might coaching, counseling, or other assistance have helped in that process?