The Backward Thinking About Change

change backward








Change is a loaded word. Take 30 seconds to write down all the words that come to mind when you think about change. I’ll wait.

Here are a few on my list: People. Progress. Systems. Failure. Processes. Improvement. Vision. Strategy. Beginning. Ending. Learn. Unlearn. Continuous. Journey. Leadership. Teamwork. Success. Stakeholders. Complex. Communication. Commitment. Buy-In. Readiness. Resistance. Goals. Measurement. Forward. Backward.

That last word may raise a few (metaphorical) eyebrows. Yes, dare I say it, the way we’ve been thinking about change is backward. ‘Change management’ is still the prevailing term we use to describe efforts to improve efficiency, effectiveness, performance, growth and profitability. Yet, it’s an incredibly boring, stale and misleading way to look at change.

Change management, at its core, refers to a set of basic tools and structures intended to keep change under control. The focus is often reactionary. Even when change is planned, it is usually segmented, imbalanced and driven only by measurable quantitative outcomes. Change is treated as an event. A singular experience, rather than a series of transitions. It can be cold, impersonal and extremely ineffective. Change management, as a core competency, is on life support and fading fast.

The truth about change? Recently, I had the opportunity to lead a conversation about change management with a group of senior leaders in the manufacturing industry. The topic was straightforward, but as I prepared for the event, I realized that my response was not.

The circumstances surrounding any change program, like DNA, are unique to the situation, organization and people. What you must do to transform your organization cannot be detailed precisely by any model, methodology or book. That is, perhaps, the most daunting aspect of the work we do to facilitate successful change.

Rather than talk about the mechanics of managing change with this group of leaders, I chose to focus primarily on how we think about change and the philosophy that drives the work I do with organizations. As a consultant, I believe it’s critical to connect with clients around the fundamentals of change first before talking about change strategies, activities and tools.

Our lives are driven by change. Some of it is planned. A lot of it just happens. We experience change in many of the same ways, but our individual experiences are also uniquely different and deeply personal. It’s those experiences – both the similar and dissimilar – that provide the foundation for effective and lasting change.

The conversation evolved into a discussion built around my observations, insights and the best practices I’ve accumulated helping facilitate change with organizations over the course of nearly 20 years. Throughout my career as both an internal leader and external consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to work with top industry leaders and discipline experts from Arthur Andersen, KPMG, MIT and Harvard along with pioneers in the field of organizational development and change including Edgar Schein, Chris Argyris and William Bridges. I was, in fact, one of the primary authors of Arthur Andersen’s Change Enablement framework and methodology.

Yes, I shared some suggested strategies and tools with this group of leaders. The true power of the conversation, however, was largely shaped by the experience itself. It was a conversation I ‘jump started’ but was ultimately driven by a group of leaders who suddenly had a lot more to say about change than I did. In the end, the conversation was not about managing change. It was about enabling change.

Successful change has a lot to do with what we learn from both our triumphs and our failures…and how we share that forward. So, here’s a look at what I’ve learned:

Enabling Positive Change: An Introduction

I ended the conversation the same way I started this article. Change is a loaded word with the power to move us forward, take us backward or go nowhere at all. But in the end, the story of change always has one common theme: change is rarely consistent, but it’s always constant.

Until next time,

Connect, Collaborate and Create! ®


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10 Life Lessons From The Doctor


I recently came clean about my addiction. It was a confession about my obsession. A revelation about my life away from the office. My secret? I’m a Whovian!

Whovians are “the epitome of awesome. They secretly run the world’s major services, have good grammar and insert Doctor Who references into every piece of popular culture available.” At least that’s what the Urban Dictionary says about these cosmically committed fans of The Doctor.

My conversion to this wildly imaginative British television show was sudden and unexpected. Many friends and colleagues have been fans of the show since its first run from 1963 to 1989. Its current incarnation began in 2005, making it one of the longest running shows in television history. The show is often described as science fiction, but the creativity, compassion and connection with its audience make it much more than a simple fairy tale across space and time. The narrative that drives this show (and is so brilliantly brought to life by writers, producers, directors and actors) is a series of timeless life lessons.

Here are ten lessons I’ve learned from Doctor Who:

1. Imagine the possibilities. The central premise of the show revolves around a Time Lord who explores the universe back and forward in time. His method of transportation is the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space).  In civilian terms, it’s a blue police call box otherwise known as a time machine.

Those who experience The Doctor for the first time are understandably dazed and confused. The realization that the TARDIS “is bigger in the inside” is just the first glimpse at the infinite possibilities that lie ahead.  It’s The Doctor, however, who captures our attention and ignites our imagination. We can’t help but be drawn to this man who, despite his age (he’s 2,000 years old, give or take a few hundred years), retains an endless admiration, respect and wide-eyed wonder of the universe. He, above all things, is an ‘imagineer’ of epic proportions.

2. Don’t go it alone. Although he is often hesitant to bring along traveling companions or align himself with allies, The Doctor has, through the years, learned he doesn’t need to do it alone. Great leaders surround themselves with people who complement and supplement their skills, abilities and personalities. From its beginning, the show was a celebration of diversity and inclusion. The show’s founding producer, Verity Lambert, was a rarity in television. In the early 1960’s, she was the only female producer working at the BBC. Throughout time and space, The Doctor has traveled with human companions of both genders and with various ethnic backgrounds, as well as a host of aliens and even same sex (but different species) partners. The Doctor and his time traveling team teach us that if you want to go fast, go it alone. If you want to go far…go together.

3. Be here…and nowhere else. Doctor Who is a time traveler. He is a nomad of the universe. He wanders a bit, but rarely without focus. When the The Doctor is called to action, his arrival may be delayed by an occasional cosmic detour, but he always lands with the knowledge and courage to act. Perpetuity depends on his ability to be everywhere and yet only where he’s needed in the moment…and one challenge at a time.

4. Embrace change. Change is constant. As The Doctor travels back in time and flashes forward to the future, we witness the end of civilizations, the birth of stars and the everlasting quest for self-actualization. The Doctor himself has lived thousands of years and yet the time-space continuum requires him to adjust to a changing universe. Twelve actors have portrayed The Doctor over the past 50 years. The Doctor looks, acts and feels differently with each actor and yet his purpose remains the same. His regeneration is both a reaction to what has already happened and preparation for what is ahead. His time traveling team also reflects a constant reality of life: people come in and out of your life. Some stay for only a brief moment, while others remain with you throughout your journey.

5. Question everything. The Doctor interrogates reality. Not because he’s a cynic, but because he understands that people and situations are almost always more than they seem. He lives life with curiosity and with an endless willingness to learn. In each episode this life perspective is almost always a pivotal moment that determines which path the team takes: the seemingly easy path to success or the more difficult terrain littered with obstacles. He teaches us to assume nothing, open our eyes and think for ourselves.

6. Live life to its fullest. In “Vincent and The Doctor” we witness the bouts of mental illness that influenced the work of Vincent van Gogh. The Doctor takes him forward in time to witness his place in history as one of the most celebrated artist of all time.  In the episode, as in life, Van Gogh somehow found the beauty that surrounded him: “Pain is easy to portray. Turn that pain into your passion to portray the ecstasy, joy and magnificence of our world.”  The Doctor shows us that life, without challenges, would not allow allow us to grow, learn and shape our own destinies.

7. Look for the remarkable in the most unlikely places. The Doctor, at first glance, seems a very unlikely hero. “He’s like a mad professor,” says actress Karen Gillian. Extremely creative and insightful people don’t follow the rules. They think while they talk and improvise as they go. To many, they may seem undisciplined and ‘messy. They are often underestimated, undervalued and overlooked because they operate outside the norm. Matt Smith, the eleventh Doctor, captured this method in the madness: “The Doctor is the cleverest man in the universe. He’s this blend of good, fun and madness.” Whovians wouldn’t have it any other way.

8. Own what you leave behind and be thoughtful as you move forward. Peter Capaldi, the current incarnation of The Doctor, explains that an unintended consequence of The Doctor’s work “traveling back and forward is the wreckage he leaves.” It’s what Susan Scott, in her book Fierce Conversations, calls your ’emotional wake.’ The impact, positive or negative, on relationships. Our lives, professional and personal, are much more than outcomes, achievements and accomplishments. The true measure of one’s life revolves around how you lived and who came along for the journey. What you leave behind, and take forward, can leave people either disgruntled and discouraged or confident and committed.

9. Celebrate your successes. Our culture is heavily weighted toward negativity. We spend more time looking for what’s wrong rather than seeking out and celebrating what’s right. The Doctor may be harsh at times, but his actions in the moment are dictated by decisions that determine success or failure…life or death. He is often detached and seemingly without emotion. His heart (correction: Time Lords have two hearts) shines through when he empowers his companions through positive feedback. The ninth Doctor, portrayed by Christopher Eccelston, may have captured it best: “Before I go, I just want to tell you…you were absolutely fantastic.”

10. Have faith in yourself and others. Fans of Doctor Who know that there are a number of rules associated with the complex relationships The Doctor forges with anyone (or anything) he meets. The most important rule? “Don’t trust The Doctor.” While his most powerful nemesis,  The Daleks, accept this as a literal, unconditional and unwavering rule, his time traveling team understands the true meaning.

The lesson lies not in what is said, but rather what isn’t said. Trust is a currency that gains value through relationships and over time. When you meet The Doctor there’s little time to establish and earn trust. Worlds are colliding. Lives are at stake. The future relies on action sooner rather than later.  “Don’t trust The Doctor” isn’t a warning. It’s a call to action. In the absence of tangible evidence or previous actions to earn our trust, he asks us to to believe. To leap forward with faith…in him and ourselves. In doing so, he encourages us to look inward and find our own strength.

So, there it is: my confession about an obsession with Doctor Who.

One last thought: While I do not know this to be true, I have one last lesson to share about Who. Through space and time he arrives on cue, but his name we never really knew. People ask, who is this Doctor…Doctor Who? This man of magic and mystery known only to a few. While we know him as The Doctor – Doctor Who – the real story here is about the brilliance that resides in YOU.

Until next time,

Connect, Collaborate and Create! ®


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The Truth About Coaching…and More!








I’m coming out.  I really want to let it show.  Yes, I want the world to know:  I love college basketball.  

Disappointed? Don’t be. I’ve come out about a lot of things in my life. I’ve recently come clean about my addiction to Dr. Who. I once confirmed that I did, in fact, attend a Debbie Gibson concert. Years ago, I even came out of the closet. Not literally, of course. I’m afraid of small spaces.

With March Madness just weeks away, my thoughts have drifted to Cinderella teams and great coaches. It’s no secret that winning teams are led by exceptional coaches, whether you’re perennial powerhouse Duke or the up-start Panthers from Northern Iowa (UNI is my Alma Mater).

Unfortunately, many senior business leaders miss the opportunity, like their peers in the sports arena, to actively lead and engage their teams through coaching.  Two common misconceptions about coaching are:  

  • The more senior you are, the less coaching you should do. Many executives leave the bulk of coaching to middle and front-line managers who primarily focus only on current performance rather than also coaching their teams for ongoing development and growth.
  • Senior leaders and executives require little or not coaching at all.  Many leaders, and their shareholders, believe they should focus only on vision, strategy, and measurable results with little focus on their own personal development. After all, they’ve been there…done that.

Coaching, at all levels of the organization, can be a powerful tool to drive engagement, performance and retention.  A true coaching culture celebrates and leverages success, acknowledges and learns from mistakes and encourages personal exploration and growth.

So, how do you get there? It starts with senior leadership. Think about the coaching experiences that have influenced you the most. People frequently describe them as authentic, supportive, challenging and consistent. Ask a respected coach the secret to his or her success and the answer is, more often than not, “because I had a great coach myself.”

So, start there. Get a coach, but be prepared to do some ‘heavy lifting.’ Stepping away from your role as a leader can be challenging. It requires a commitment to seek and act on feedback that both affirms your strengths and sheds light on areas where you can, and often must, improve. It’s not easy. That, alone, should make you want to do it even more. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along my journey:

  • Be vulnerable
  • Ask questions
  • Listen more
  • Embrace individuality
  • Appreciate and empower others
  • Take risks
  • Rinse and repeat

Coaching works. It engages employees, accelerates performance and improves retention. Guess what? It’s also fun and rewarding.

So, my secret’s out.  Let’s roll!


Until next time,

Connect, Collaborate and Create! ®


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Make An Appointment With The One Person Who Doesn’t Get Enough of Your Time – You!

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It’s happening everywhere you look. We’ve sprung forward and now we’re racing toward summer.  But before we reach Memorial Day, many of us experience a little dejavu.  It’s that feeling – just five months into the year – where we suddenly realize we haven’t scheduled enough time for…(wait for it) ME! Take a few minutes to read this – who knows, it just may help!  Enjoy!

We’re always connected.   Iphones. Ipads. Androids. Laptops. Desktops. Even those dreaded land lines! Our calendars are filled with back to back meetings, project updates, client calls, team building, training, birthday celebrations. Those occasional “drop by conversations” can also throw our day off track, but the value of relationship building can never be underestimated when a spontaneous conversation yields something productive!

So, how do you do it all? Competing priorities, both at work and home, often make it difficult to take time for yourself, especially while you are at work. I learned years ago that, as a leader, I could not do everything and everything could not be a priority. In fact, making time for myself would be my key to success as I continued to grow as a leader and client consultant.

My mentor and coach suggested that I managed my “me time” just as I would any other…

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Diversity and Inclusion: World AIDS Day 2012

“We ALL are living with AIDS…”

This sentiment shared by award winning actress Judith Light has always been my introduction to the topic of HIV/AIDS.  To many, it may seem that AIDS is a distant disease, impacting people very different than you and in places far, far away.  Unfortunately, HIV/AIDS is still here.  We all are, in fact, living with this disease.

The mission of Word AIDS Day 2012 is “Getting to Zero.”  We are making progress, but HIV/AIDS is still a critical health crises AND relevant to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.  It’s highly likely that a family member, friend or workplace colleague regardless of gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity, is infected with HIV and possibly living with AIDS.

My work with HIV/AIDS began with the AIDS Walk, The AIDS Ride, and as the employee educator of the Viacom/MVT Networks “Know HIV/AIDS” campaign. Working with partners across the cable, healthcare, and non-profit industries I had the privilege to work with many celebrity AIDS ambassadors including Common and Ashley Judd.

YOU  too can make a difference.  It’s  been my work in the community that has made the biggest impact on my life and and on others.  All of us, through our personal actions and collaboration can make an impact:  by knowing the facts, acting in support of those living with HIV/AIDS, and volunteering your time and helping to educate others.

Those most at risk are, in fact, the core of our workforce:  young people under the age of  24.  Diversity and inclusion is not just about gender, race, veteran status, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or economic status.  It also includes compassion and support related to personal health, including HIV/AIDS.

Please join me in remembering those lost to this disease.  Work with me and others to support those living with HIV/AIDS, and working to prevent new HIV infections.

After all, we all are living with AIDS.


Until next time:  connect, collaborate and create.

The Connector,



In 2011:

  • 34 million [31.4 million – 35.9 million] people globally were living with HIV
  • 2.5 million [2.2 million – 2.8 million] people became newly infected with HIV
  • 1.7 million [1.5 million – 1.9 million] people died from AIDS-related illnesses
  • There are approximately 3-4 million AIDS “orphans” living in Africa – both parents lost to AIDS

-Declining new HIV infections in children:  The area where perhaps most progress is being made is in reducing new HIV infections in children. Half of the global reductions in new HIV infections in the last two years have been among newborn children.

-Fewer AIDS-related deaths:  Anti-retroviral therapy has emerged as a powerful force for saving lives. In the last 24 months the number of people accessing treatment has increased by 63% globally.

-More investments:  Countries are increasing investments in the AIDS response despite a difficult economic climate. The global gap in resources needed annually by 2015 is now at 30%. In 2011, US$ 16.8 billion was available and the need for 2015 is between US$ 22-24 billion.

World AIDS Day 2012