Posts Tagged ‘managing change’

Living the American Nightmare

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

As an interested Brit, I stayed up most of the night and watched the US Presidential election unfold, eventually turning in around 5.30am by which time it was all over bar the shouting.  So it was real rather than a nightmare, but events from the past have slowly brought this election day result to the boil, which has resulted in the nightmare scenario.

That scenario is Donald Trump becoming President elect of the USA.

I found myself in a state of disorientation yesterday, trying to make sense of it all. Judging by comments I saw from American contacts on Facebook, and interviews on news bulletins there was (understandably) far more disorientation for those on the other side of the Pond.

The American Dream was defined by the American writer and historian James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book The Epic of America as, life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement … regardless of social class or circumstances of birth”.

Trump has certainly succeeded in making his life own life better and richer, and seized opportunities – he has been selected for the role of President of the US when in any job application process he would have failed at the paper sift stage due to lack of experience.

Sadly, he didn’t get to the social class bit of Adams’ definition. Which is where he divides opinion. He appears to judge everyone as to what they will do, what they will say and what role they should play in society due to their ethnicity, their race, their sex, their sexual orientation their physical disabilities … and he probably uses other discriminators too. This is what makes him so odious – and unacceptable to so many people.

How did the dream turn into a nightmare?

On the face of it, any Democrat should have beaten Trump – so what went wrong for the Democrats? Trump supported his campaign with huge amounts of money – the New York Times suggests loans to himself of $50m. Clinton had her share too, though – she raised about $75m, again according to the New York Times, through ‘super-PACs’.  These are, according to the Oxford Living Dictionary, “A type of independent political action committee which may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, and individuals but is not permitted to contribute to or coordinate directly with parties or candidates”.

Bernie Sanders didn’t have access to that sort of money – because he refused it. There may well have been other reasons why he didn’t beat Clinton, such as him not believing he could win, but this was key.

Whilst in the US in June this year, I found myself in conversation with a campaign manager for Mike Huckabee, the Republican candidate who by this time had dropped out. His view was that the Republican Party was very pleased that Clinton had beaten Sanders as she would be easier for the Republicans to beat than Sanders.  Since the result earlier this week, several people have argued this point, backed up with convincing data.

The result was that the electorate ended up with the two most unpopular presidential nominees in the history of NBC’s ‘Popularity Poll’, which dates back some 25 years. Clinton scored -20 and Trump -29, the scoring being the percentage of registered voters with a positive opinion of the individual minus the percentage with a negative opinion. For comparison purposes, within the same poll Obama was +8, Sanders +7 and Putin -51.  And this was prior to revelations about alleged sexual assaults and the FBI email server investigation, both of which would surely have only taken them further into the negative.

I felt for the electorate. I’m not sure I could have voted for either of them. Neither of them reflected my values.

And the last piece of the jigsaw to help Trump over the line was the “constitutional relic” that is the electoral college ‘first past the post’ method of election. At the time of writing this, Clinton is likely to have received 200,000 more votes overall than Trump, yet she loses. I cannot start to imagine how galling that must be for her and her supporters – although Al Gore knows the feeling, too.

That’s partially the history of how we have arrived at this nightmare – but that was only the falling asleep after eating too many carbohydrates too close to going to bed … the nightmare has yet to start.

The USA is a country of beauty and splendour, and many, many good and lovely people live there. It is also, however, deeply, deeply divided. Primarily in relation to colour and race, but also – like many other countries – in relation to socio-economic terms.

I have written here before about my own experiences of this in both New Orleans and more recently Kansas. The model I see is more akin to informal and culturally accepted racial segregation than effective racial integration. This is something that at some point the US must address more proactively.

Over the past 18 months, Trump has been building a tinderbox. He hasn’t created all the materials for it – those have been around for a long time – but he has brought them altogether. We are now waiting to see if he ignites the box.

The fear – expectation in some quarters – is that he will. As a result, there have already been marches and protests at the outcome of this election. It must be particularly worrying being a black person, a gay person, even being a woman at the moment in the US – and understandably so. We have seen in the UK how the Brexit vote has led to an increase in cases of racial discrimination and abuse.  One of the conversations on Facebook yesterday between friends in a southern US state included reference to how Trump’s election would empower the Ku Klux Klan and has “taken us back 50 years in time”.

Thankfully there are also many individuals taking responsibility and attempting to galvanise positive actions and intentions. One of my contacts, Scott MacLeod, put it particularly well on Facebook on the day of the election saying, You’ve done your civic duty. You voted. You probably, as I did, had some level of hesitation as you selected your choices. You recognize the importance of this election, and your role in the outcome. You are concerned about the future of the United States, and you voted, to the best of your abilities, for candidates that embraced your values. But for now, your role is over. The ballots have been cast and the democratic process is underway. Now, let’s embrace a new set of values – kindness, humility, compassion, and strength. Let’s pledge not to gloat or complain about the results of the election. Let’s treat each other with a newfound civility, and recognize that most participants in this election, even if many seemed misguided, voted their conscience and moral compass. United We Stand, Divided We Fall. Let’s come together and heal – the divisiveness can end if we want it to”.

After the result was known, and in response to a comment, he added, “If you believe that immorality won, then we have to be better moral agents in the face of that opposition. If you believe that fear won, then we must stand unified and strong. If you believe that selfishness won, then we must be much more generous and compassionate. Trump cannot heal the nation. We can”.

I hope more people think and act like that. And I hope Trump listens and acts with reason.

These are politically uncertain times. The next few months are going to be difficult times in the US. They are difficult for us in the UK too, as we manoeuvre our way out of Europe and see how racial tensions manifest themselves – but particularly difficult in the US due to the racial divisions (and not helped by the way many of its citizens view the use of guns).

And where next? Look no further than France. It has elections in early 2017. We know it already has a strong right wing party headed by Le Pen. Trump took energy and learned lessons from Brexit and Nigel Farage. Le Pen will similarly take from Trump.

You and I can do little about that. But you can do your own bit – as Scott put it, you can help heal your nation.

Or perhaps the culture at your place of work? Political behaviour, harassment, disempowerment, victimisation – they all take place in the workplace, and that’s where you can make a difference. As my mum used to tell me, “If you look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves”.

Take your responsibility and lead the change. Fix the culture.


Leading through change

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Handling change effectively can be really satisfying. We are generally not the instigators of change, almost always the recipients of some change or other and are sometimes required to implement it.  This makes it important – but it isn’t always managed as if it’s important. It needs the human touch.

If we reflect on some of those times when we have been recipients, we may well be able to come up with examples of how the change was managed well. We can almost certainly come up with examples of occasions when it was not dealt with as well as it could have been.

Because of the emotions that experiencing change can generate, it is an area of management where the manager can have a particularly positive or negative impact. And whilst the manager may also be affected by the change process, he or she will do well to invest some time into managing it well – if they want as motivated and effective staff as possible post-change. It is a short-term investment of time that reaps long-term gains.

In my previous blog post, I described four 4 types of people we encounter during change – The Entrenched, The Overwhelmed, The Whirling Dervish and The Learner. And where they sit depends largely on their ability and willingness to deal with change.

Having previously described their probably reactions, I said that in this post I would give you some hints on how to manage the different individuals. This will help you to assist them as effectively as possible – or understand how you need to be managed in order to deal with the change as well as possible.

The Entrenched – You need to attend to The Entrenched person’s emotions or stress. A phased introduction of the changes will help them, as will clearly linking them to their past successes.  Don’t expect too much too soon from them, or you may have another Overwhelmed person. Find safe places and situations for them to test their learning, and use Learners as role models.

The Overwhelmed – The Overwhelmed person needs to be shown understanding in dealing with their stress and fear.  They need lots of support and encouragement for the future, and they require protecting from rapid empowerment or responsibility. Ensure that they can achieve some quick or easy wins. Finally, use effective colleagues to promote their confidence – you cannot do it all yourself!

The Whirling Dervish – Whatever you do, don’t empower The Whirling Dervish or let them loose with a wide remit! You need to limit their influence over others, hold them accountable for anything you ask them to implement and give them plenty of feedback. Ask them to address core issues and solutions, not symptoms and quick fixes. Help them recognise and address the true extent of their abilities.

The Learner – You need to help fill any gaps in The Learner’s personal knowledge. Focus them on processes rather than the task. Give them the freedom to model learning for others, and consider offering them new and demanding roles with high impact opportunities.  Learners can sometimes take on too much and become all things to all people – support them and ensure that this doesn’t happen as you don’t want to lose your Learners.

If you have been able to identify your own ‘preferred’ position, do some of these tips on how you should be managed make sense? Or as a manager, can you see how they would work with your staff?

Remember, attitudes are caught, not taught. If you as a leader or manager are negative about change, your staff are likely to follow the example you set. And effectively managing the human dimensions of change can have a really significant impact on the performance of a team or business.


The Human Dimensions of Change

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

There is much change taking place at the moment. Here in the UK there are many people, particularly in the public sector, soon to be looking for different jobs, and many other people are having their roles changed due to organisational restructures. Difficult personal times.

And they are often made more difficult than they need to be by how they are handled. I have for some time worked on the basis that there are four main categories that people experiencing change fit into. I have seen these labelled as The Entrenched, The Overwhelmed, The Whirling Dervish and The Learner. I have absolutely no idea who came up with these classifications, but if you know, it would be great to be able to mention them and give them the credit.

So which are you? Or where do those people you manage fit? By understanding more about how change impacts on us, we can help ourselves – and our colleagues – to cope with such situations more effectively. Here’s a little more detail to help you to understand the categories.

The Entrenched – An Entrenched person has the ability to learn and capacity to change, but is generally not particularly willing to engage in this. The change experience can lead to them feeling frustrated or angry, and to be frightened of what the future holds. They are confident of their proven skills and their past performance – and as such, may well work harder to seek to justify their existence and prove that there is no need for change. They can struggle to understand the organisation’s change in attitude towards previously valued behaviours. They also tend to dismiss the reasons for the change.

The Overwhelmed – Like our Entrenched colleagues, our Overwhelmed people are not willing to engage in the change. Where they differ from the Entrenched is that they don’t particularly have (or believe they have) the capacity to change or the ability to learn the required new skills or processes. This potentially makes them feel powerless, fearful and unhappy. In order to deal with these emotions they can avoid issues and block stressful events. They can blame and commiserate – and hope that normality will return. They also tend to avoid risk, focus on the safe and known tasks and look busy.

The Whirling Dervish – Our Whirling Dervishes really rather look forward to the change, and are willing to embrace it. Unfortunately though, they tend not to have the capacity to make the required changes and learn the new skills. This leads to them being ready to get going with the changes and wanting to implement change – any change. They can be over-confident in their own abilities and as such seek positions of influence. They want quick action and visible results. They are surprised by and unsympathetic towards colleagues who demonstrate caution or concern for the future. They can have a particularly negative influence on Overwhelmed colleagues – as they attempt to lead such people down the garden path.

The Learner – Our final category of people has both the willingness to embrace the change and the capacity to learn the new skills. They tend to be a little anxious, but they are optimistic as they can see the positive benefits – they tend to have a balanced approach, being able to see the pros and the cons. They focus on any problems rather than apportion blame. They are not afraid of making mistakes, and can find humour in difficult circumstances and use it to help others.

Have you been able to – even roughly – label yourself?  Perhaps you can identify where some of your colleagues fit?

This human dimension to change is really important – and the more we understand it, the better we can cope with it – or for managers, the better they can assist others.

In my next blog I’ll give some ideas as to how we can help and manage people within each of these categories to deal with change more effectively.