Change Begins with You
By Lois P.
Frankel, Ph.D., President
of Corporate Coaching International
is nothing more difficult to
take in hand, more perilous
to conduct, or more uncertain
in its success, than to take
the lead in the introduction
of a new order of things. Because
the innovator has for enemies
all those who have done well
under the old conditions, and
lukewarm defenders in those
who may do well under the new."
There’s an old joke in psychologists’
circles: How many therapists does
it take to change a light bulb? Only one,
but the light bulb has to really want
to change. Human beings resist change.
Our primitive brains are wired to engage
in behaviors that are safe, comfortable,
and familiar to us. Just look at how
long it took Americans to get into the habit
of wearing seatbelts. Or how our collective
resistance to adopting the metric system
ultimately led the U.S. government to abandon
the idea. And, be honest about this
one, if you’re over 40, how long did
it take you to start getting your news electronically
instead of by newspaper or magazine?
As HR practitioners, our greatest challenge
in effecting meaningful change is helping
people to overcome their natural resistance
to it and embrace new ideas and systems
that will, in the long-run, serve them well.
Harvard professor and change expert Dr.
John Kotter says, “The central issue
is never strategy, structure, culture or
systems…it’s always about changing
the behavior of people and behavior change
happens in highly successful situations
by speaking to people’s feelings.”
This is where you come in. It’s
your job to be concerned with people’s
feelings. By necessity, seismic change
begins with you. And that means you
first must be prepared to deal with your
own biases toward change and then partner
with the other change agents in your organization
to ensure your employees, customers, clients
and other stakeholders are on board with
the impending changes.
Recognizing Your Change Challenges
One way that we exhibit bias for change
is in how we process information.
Here’s a quick and dirty test to help
you identify what may impede your ability
to quickly adapt to change. Look at
the following shapes and choose the one
that you relate to most (I told
you – it’s quick and dirty,
If you’re like most people, you could
probably narrow it down to two right away
and then, because you were given instructions
to do so, you eventually chose one of those
two. That’s because we actually
possess the traits (as described below)
of all four shapes, but we are inclined
to rely on one or two in our daily activities.
Leading change requires us to fluidly shift
from one style of behavior to another, depending
on the situation and the people with whom
we are dealing. This should not be
construed as being phony or false, but rather
as being a savvy influencer.
Stable, logical, organized,
goes with the flow, honors tradition
gets things done
unconcerned with the impact of plans
clings to the way we’ve always
Impulsive, lacks strategy,
ready-fire-aim, impatient with people
Impractical, has difficulty
It should be obvious that it helps to have
all four types involved in the change process.
Diversity of thought and preference leads
to better outcomes. Yet, in over three
decades as a consultant to organizations
around the globe, it has been my experience
that change efforts can become stalled or
scrapped entirely because teams are unable
to capitalize on what Isabel Myers and Kathleen
Briggs (creators of the Myers Briggs Type
Indicator) call “gifts differing.”
Facilitating seismic change requires you
to first understand your own challenges
and gifts and then recognize and capitalize
on those of others. For a more robust
assessment of your strengths and areas for
development in this arena you may want to
take the MBTI
Step II with the accompanying interpretive
Dealing with Resistance, Yours and
Resistance to change shouldn’t be
construed as entirely bad. It’s
one way in which people ensure that the
baby isn’t thrown out with the bath
water. Let’s suppose a company
is considering a wide-scale change effort
to address customer concerns about service,
follow-up and returns. Viewed from
the lens of each of the types described
above, “good” resistance to
one element of suggested change might sound
“The data shows that the system
we’ve been using to track shipments
has 93% accuracy for time and delivery.
I recommend we hang on to it,” says
“Our people are familiar and comfortable
with the system we’ve been using
to track shipments. We might want
to keep this until we’re sure we
really need a new one and can get them
fully up-to-speed on it,” says the
“The tracking system works.
If it ain’t broke, let’s not
fix it and focus instead on things that
really need fixing,” says the Senser.
“We only implemented the tracking
system for shipments eighteen months ago
and at that time it was state-of-the art.
I suggest we keep it until something more
efficient comes down the pike and can
be evaluated before we purchase it,”
says the Intuitor.
No one is suggesting that the change effort
not take place. They are only providing
input into what currently works and why
time, effort and money shouldn’t be
spent reinventing the wheel.
How Ready Are You for Change?
The HR professional has to be honest about
his or her ability to be an integral part
of the change leadership team. Professor
T. J. Jenney at Purdue University identified
seven traits that measure your readiness
for change. Consider each of those
traits described below.
- Resourcefulness. Effective
at utilizing whatever resources are available
to develop plans and contingencies. See
more than one way to achieve a goal; able
to look in less obvious places to find
help. Skilled at creating new ways
to solve old problems.
- Optimism. Recognize
opportunities and possibilities; believe
that things usually work out for the best.
See the glass as half-full.
- Adventurousness. An
inclination to take risks and the desire
to pursue the unknown. Drawn to a
- Passion/Drive. Believe
nothing is impossible. Pursue change with
intensity and determination. Energized
- Adaptability. Includes
two elements: flexibility and resilience.
When something doesn't work out, they'll
say, "Plan A doesn't work, let's
go to Plan B." Rebound from adversity
quickly with a minimum of trauma.
- Confidence. There
is situational confidence ("I know
I can swim across this channel, learn
this program, write this report) and self-confidence
("I can handle whatever comes down
the pike."). Belief in
one’s own ability to handle any
- Tolerance for Ambiguity.
The one certainty surrounding change is
uncertainty. No matter how carefully you
plan it, there is always an element of
ambiguity. Create clarity and
direction in the face of uncertainty.
If you’re really honest with yourself,
how many of those traits would you count
among your strengths? Ideally,
you will say all seven, but in reality you
most likely have to develop your muscle
on at least one or two. For
a more in-depth assessment you can find
Dr. Jenney’s complete Change-Readiness
The Journey of a Thousand Miles
Begins with a Single Step
With all of these potential obstacles to
change, you might wonder how any organization
ever changes! Seismic
change begins with you and your first step.
Here are a few coaching tips to help you
- Identify and overcome personal
challenges to large-scale change.
You can’t lead change if
you don’t deal with your own biases,
doubts and insecurities about change and
your ability to effect it.
- Recognize that change efforts
will take longer than you anticipate.
Think in terms of years,
not months. Get comfortable with
looking on the horizon for the results
of successful change efforts.
- Address the human side of change.
The best plans and strategies have no
meaning when very basic human emotions
such as fear, confusion or resentment
are not factored into the change equation.
Communicating openly, honestly and often
is your best antidote for resistance to
- Remember: what you measure
is what you get. Identify
measurable outcomes and hold individuals
and teams accountable for achieving them
through incentives and rewards.
About Dr. Lois Frankel
Dr. Lois Frankel, founder and CEO of Corporate
Coaching International, is a New York Times
best-selling author and consultant to companies
and firms such as ATT, Goldman Sachs, McKinsey,
Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Walt
Disney and Warner Bros. She will be
the keynote speaker at CTHRA’s HR
Symposium on October 2, 2018 in Philadelphia.