Friday, 27 December 2013

End of Year Quiz 2013

The same rules apply as in previous years, i.e. there are twelve questions, one for each month of the year.  The questions (and hence the answers) are about events and news that occurred in each specific month during 2013.  If you take the first letter of each answer (in chronological order) they will spell out my wish for you for 2014.  I hope you enjoy the challenge and that it reminds you of some of the many things that have happened over the past twelve months.

After a ten year recording silence, which internationally renowned singer released a surprise new single on the 8th January, which happened also to be his 66th birthday?  

Union Jack coat designed in collaboration with Alexander McQueen


Pope Benedict XVI announced on 11th February his decision to abdicate.  On 28th February he left the Vatican to become "a pilgrim" starting his last journey on earth.  He is the first Pope to resign since Pope Gregory XII in 1415 and the first to do so of his own initiative since Pope Celestine V in 1294.  For how many years (nearly) had Pope Benedict XVI been in office?
Pope Benedict XVI
In which country did voters in a referendum, held on Sunday 3rd March, approve measures limiting CEO pay, curbing executives’ remuneration and outlawing golden parachutes? 

Golden Parachute by Isca Greenfield-Sanders, aquatint and gold leaf

A globally renowned politician and former (first ever female) Prime Minister of her country died of a stroke on 8th April, aged 87, and was given a ceremonial state funeral.  What is her surname?


What is the name of the Japanese climber who became the oldest person ever to reach the summit of Mount Everest, at the age of 80, on May 25th?

What is the name of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation that was abolished on 11th June down as part of Greek government’s austerity measures?
Rioting in Greece due to austerity measures
On July 11th 250,000 people were forced to leave their homes due to floods in which Indian state?  These floods submerged 11 districts out of the 27 of the region.


He was officially charged with her murder on 19th August, what was the name of South African runner Oscar Pistorius’ girlfriend?
Oscar Pistorius
Bengali writer and social worker Sushmita Banerjee, who wrote a book about fleeing from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, was shot by suspected Taliban militants on 5th September.  What is the title of the Bollywood movie that had been made of her experiences?
Sushmita Banerjee

Which leading seismologist and geophysicist died on October 19th? Born in Moscow in 1921, he died in Los Angeles having worked in various countries and established an exemplary international reputation. He was a global expert in pattern recognition, geodynamics, seismology, chaos theory, statistical physics and public safety who developed algorithms to detect precursory earthquake patterns - known as “the Holy Grail of earthquake science” (he was also excellent at predicting outcomes in popular votes such as political elections).  He was elected to membership of 7 international academies of science, awarded the inaugural Lewis Fry Richardson Medal by the European Geophysical Society for exceptional contributions to non-linear geophysics, was founding director of the International Institute of Earthquake Prediction Theory and Mathematical Geophysics and served as president of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics.

“The Day of the Doctor” premiered in 94 countries simultaneously, on November 23rd, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the British science-fiction show Doctor Who.  William Hartnell was the first incarnation of the Doctor in 1963, the Doctor is currently portrayed by Peter Capaldi, who took over from Matt Smith in the 2013 Christmas special.  At the time of the anniversary celebrations, Matt Smith was the Doctor – which incarnation was he?

What jade animal is the name of the Chinese robotic rover, Yutu, which reached the Moon’s surface on 14th December?  It is the first wheeled vehicle on the surface of the Moon since the 1970’s and it is expected to undertake a three-month mission to explore the Bay of Rainbows (Sinus Iridium), a lava field considered one of the Moon’s most beautiful features. 
As an aside, many nations have stories about this animal being on the Moon.  In China it is thought of as the pet of the goddess Chang-e and its shape can be seen on the surface as a silhouette creating her elixir of life.  Indeed in China, Japan and Korea it is thought to be pounding ingredients with a pestle and mortar.  Buddhist and Aztec folklore also both tell a tale of this animal sacrificing itself to be a meal for what it thought was a starving man, by throwing itself onto a fire.  The old man in each case was in fact a god; who, touched by the animal’s virtue, traced the likeness of the creature onto the Moon’s surface for all to see.
Lunar rover offloaded from Change'e-3 lander
I hope you have enjoyed solving the above.  Please drop me a line if you can't determine an answer or want help in any way.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for all the good times and comments during 2013.  You have made me think and smile.
Here's to 2014, may it prove a wonderful year for us all.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Sharp Thinking

It’s nearly the holidays, or should that read the Holly-days?  The glossy evergreen plant, with sharp spikes on its leaves and clusters of vibrant red berries, has been considered a special plant, used to decorate homes and enliven festivals, long before the Christian celebration commenced.  Today’s post in my seasonal series is inspired by holly and focuses on being sharp and the potential impact of words and actions.

“The sword the body wounds, sharp words the mind.”- Menander, Greek Playwright 300BC
Bust of Menander
Ephesos Museum
hy is it considered advantageous to be “sharp-eyed” and in possession of a “sharp mind” and yet unpleasant to be “sharp-tongued”?  Certainly it is easy to upset and harm others by being critical and making unkind comments, especially if they are cutting and simultaneously witty, but, in a world where most people worry about how they are perceived, having keen eyesight and being alert and observant is considered desirable.  I suspect the reason for the apparent disparity is due to basic human reactions - we are good at remembering the manner in which something is said long after we have forgotten the actual words used or the attire of the speaker.  Think back to the last time you were interviewed - can you remember the clothes the interviewer wore or the wording of the questions he or she asked?  I suspect not, although you are likely to remember how you were made to feel during the meeting and that will have influenced your attitude towards both that person and the organisation they represent.

There are numerous articles and blogs about how the human brain works and why we react to and retain the information that we do.  In some studies, nonverbal communication has been shown to carry up to 93% more impact than the words spoken.  I would argue that the way that words are said usually says more than the words themselves.  If a friend slams the door behind them, thumps their bag down on the table and sighs deeply, when the answer is “I’m fine.” on being asked how they are, do you believe them?  We should all be mindful of the impact we have on those around us.  When I was much younger I worked for a large financial services business and we, the HR team, were involved in a number of mergers (trying to “realise cost efficiencies” by combining departments and removing duplication of labour).  It was demanding work, as it impacted on people’s lives and we cared (as an aside, there is seldom support for the HR employees handling redundancies).  In difficult times HR often find themselves at the sharp end of people’s irritation and stress.  One HR colleague became increasingly frustrated by the manner in which the team was treated.  He was intelligent and quick witted.  We all enjoyed his keen sense of humour, but, as his dissatisfaction mounted, he started responding by writing acerbic (albeit very funny) emails about the situation we were in –you could tell who had received the latest missive by the muffled chuckles.  He really had a way with words. 

“When ideas fail, words come in very handy” – Goethe

After he had raised various suggestions to senior management, about ways in which the situation could be made less stressful, all of which fell on deaf ears, he slipped from being pleasantly entertaining to becoming unpleasantly personal.  He wrote, with searing sarcasm, about the environment and certain individuals within it.  It stopped being funny.  In the end one of his more bitter missives was forwarded to a director and disciplinary proceedings ensued.  I am not condoning what he wrote, however, I do not feel that he was solely to blame.  He had tried to propose solutions but was ignored.  We, his colleagues, did not discourage him from being disruptive nor did we alert him to the impact he was having on certain people within the team and senior management were unresponsive and turned a blind eye.  It often feels easier to avoid talking than to have a difficult conversation, although in my experience this is a foolish response.

Close up of cat's tongue
showing sharp backward facing barbs
What has this to do with holly?  Well, a bit... Holly is a dioecious plant, meaning that there are male and female trees.  In order for berries to be produced, the female needs to be located 30-40 feet of a male, so that pollination can occur.  It was the close proximity of sympathetic colleagues that encouraged my colleague in HR to start composing and sharing his sharp-tongued emails.  His words were damaging for morale and hurt some people more than he appreciated.  The ancient Celts of the British Isles and Gaul believed that the Holly King ruled over winter and death, whilst the Oak King ruled life and summer.  The Holly King was a truculent giant with a great wooden club made of a holly branch.   (He became the Green Knight of Arthurian legend, who challenged Sir Gawain during a Yuletide feast, his weapon a “solitary branch of holly.”)  His belligerent behaviour unsettled the people around him.  My sharp-mouthed friend did the same.

Mask for a Holly King
His instinct was right, in that he was trying to enhance our situation, but his full-on approach was harmful.  Holly berries are potentially dangerous to humans, if eaten like fruit.  However, if consumed in the right way, holly can prove to be beneficial – holly extract has been used in folk remedies for centuries and recently it has been discovered that there are chemicals in the roots and bark that could be an effective treatment for skin cancer and boosting the immune system (  Certain types of holly have been viewed desirable for centuries.  The Guarada people of South American tell of the god Pa-i-shume who taught them how to brew mate – a stimulating and reviving tea, made from the leaves of the Paraguayan holly.  Fine chess pieces are often made of holly wood – it is pale, almost white in colour and grain-less, but can be dyed easily and evenly.  Holly is also a traditional material for the creation of black piano keys.  Most things, like people, can fulfil a wonderful and unique purpose, so long as you appreciate their attributes and use them to best effect.

I am intrigued by the fact that holly has fulfilled a similar role in a number of communities around the world.  In rural Japan, holly sprigs are hung on doors to ward off devils and a popular New Year’s charm is a holly leaf on a skewer – to represent the Buddhist monk-deity Daikoku, who was saved from an attack by a devil by being given a holly branch to protect himself.  It is common across Europe for holly wreaths to be placed on doors, over the mid-winter period, and trees were often planted near homes to deter spirits, as well as to prevent lightening strikes (holly has been proven to be an effective conductor, better than most trees, with limited injury to the plant itself when struck).  In mythology there are similarities too: in Shinto mythology the Sun-goddess Amaterasu hides from the world in a cavern, thereby bringing winter. The erotic clown goddess Uzume hangs a mirror and jewels in a holly tree and her entertaining but lascivious dancing encourages Amaterasu out, thereby heralding spring.  Ancient Greek mythology also explains winter as being due to a goddess, Demeter, hiding herself away.  In both stories a bawdy comedian, who is a lesser goddess, distracts the recluse - the raunchy old crone Baubo flashes more than her baubles to make Demeter laugh and start drinking again.

Baubo entertaining Demeter

So next time someone makes unnecessary, sarcastic comments, look to the reasons why he or she is being sharp-tongued.  Have you ever noticed that a holly tree has spiked leaves closer to the ground to protect it from attack and being eaten by animals.  Higher up the tree the spined leaves are replaced by smooth ovals - not dissimilar to the laurels that Romans wore to symbolise champions.  Like the sprig of holly on a pudding, the sharp words could be symptomatic of something bigger; if you protect and nurture the speaker the spikey language may cease as he/or she grows and thrives.  We have moved on from holly being a clumsy club to harm others, for most people holly is considered a symbol of good luck.  Luck is there for the making if you remain sharp-eyed and sharp-witted and know how to spot it.  Here’s wishing you luck in the year to come.

Holly branches showing smooth leaves

Hollywood chess pieces

Baubo figurine
similar to Sheela-na-Gig's
found on European churches

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Kiss and Tell

The holiday period is pounding towards us, my timeline is full of people competing for the best dressed tree and so, not wishing to let the side down, my next few posts will have a seasonal twist...

I confess, I love Christmas: the sharing, smiles and sparkle, but I also find it a good time for contemplation.  There is much to be said for the ancient approach towards Yule with its focus on regrowth and renewal.  Long before we started competing for ownership of the most tastefully tinselled tree, evergreen branches were used to decorate homes, as a reminder that the days will lengthen, plants will sprout and crops will grow.  I tend not to make New Year’s resolutions, as I believe that positive change should not be limited to a once-a-year action, but I find the pictures of holly and mistletoe a good reminder of the need to renew bonds with colleagues and actively to reforge relationships with others if they have become strained due to the pressures of work earlier in the year.   I am writing this post on the day of Nelson Mandela’s funeral.  He is an excellent reminder to us all of the power of forgiveness and the potentially great outcomes that can be achieved through forging relationships, despite earlier tensions.
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy.  Then he becomes your partner.”  Nelson Mandela

Exit interviews and research both show that the most common cause for people choosing to leave their job is a bad relationship with and lack of respect for their boss ( Research also shows that January is the most popular month around the world for people to start looking for new opportunities (so if you have bridges to build, you’d better get a move on; there are only a few weeks of December left!).  Did you know that the average tenure of employment in the US is now 1.5 years?  It may be traditional to give valuable gifts at this time of year (gold, frankincense and myrrh spring to mind), but very few people choose to leave because of pay.  They go because of managers’ inability to engage with them.  There are not many of us who are happy to work without a sense of purpose - people need to appreciate the vision that the organisation is trying to achieve.  It’s not a budgeted profit number that inspires, it is the knowledge that what you do makes a difference and is worth striving for - vision fosters financials and not the other way round ( ).  Clearly, in order for people to understand what they are doing and why, you need to communicate with them.  The simple act of speaking with the individuals in your team, understanding their points of view and taking time to explain your drivers, will do much to strengthen the relationship between you.  An empathetic and honest conversation goes a long way towards enabling trust and mutual respect.  The last factor that makes a difference to people is fun - humans are social and prefer to work in an enjoyable environment where they feel valued.  

Last week I took two of our London-based teams out, to celebrate the end of the year and to thank them for all they have done over the past twelve months.  Instead of just going for lunch, I planned an outing that would appeal to all of them.  I took them on a mystery trip, where we all took part in a game, that played to our strengths, before relaxing together over a meal.  I know that sounds a bit like HR-contrived-team-building.  However, I’m pleased to say that it didn’t feel like that.  We had fun, even those who don’t usually socialise got on well and everyone had a good time - lots to laugh about.   Two of the more junior team members clubbed together to buy me a personal thank you gift, which they left wrapped on my desk the following day.  I am touched and delighted that I made them feel special.  One person, a good worker who has been with the firm for seven years, commented that it was the first time that senior management had made an effort to make him feel valued - that is a sad statement.  Are there people in your organisation who would say the same?  What’s the risk to your business if you lose them?

We played HintHunt to unlock talent and enhance communication
We are all familiar with the workplace joke that employees are like mushrooms - kept in the dark and fed s@*t.  I think maybe we should view employees as Christmas mistletoe.  It will only grow on a thriving tree and, because it has leaves, it can create its own strength instead of being a dependent parasite.  The name mistletoe means “dung on a twig” (from the Anglo-Saxon “mistel” - “dung” and “tan” - “twig”) - if you don’t treat your employees with respect and communicate with them that is how they will feel and they will be likely to leave you.  The reason for the name is because the ancient Europeans believed that mistle thrush droppings miraculously transformed into the plant - they did not appreciate that the seeds were carried to trees by the birds.  As employment patterns change we increasingly will need to attract migrant skills to make our organisations stronger and to ensure that projects and objectives are achieved.
Mistletoe growing on an apple tree
We kiss under mistletoe because of ancient Norse beliefs.  In brief, the goddess Frigga’s beautiful son, Baldur, was killed by a spear made of mistletoe - a wicked trick by another god, Loki.  A hero was appointed to ride to Hel (the place for dead souls not killed in battle) to bring him back.  Baldur’s return was agreed on condition that all living things wept for him.  They did but there was one exception, a giantess (whom many believe was Loki in disguise), she shed no tears and hence Baldur had to remain in Hel.  To make amends in a difficult situation, Frigga decreed that going forwards mistletoe should bring love and not death to the world.  Any two people meeting under mistletoe should lay down their arms and embrace in memory of Baldur.  It is an easy step from this to the modern habit. In the past it was thought that each berry was one of Frigga’s tears and, in many places, you had to pluck a berry off the shrub each time you kissed - when there were no more berries there was no longer an excuse to kiss.  It is more probable that the reason mistletoe is connected with kissing and uninhibited erotic/sexual abandon is due to its ancient use as a preventative for pregnancy.  It was also valued for its ability to remain verdant during the winter, despite not being rooted in the soil, when the trees on which it grew appeared to be dead.  In Celtic mythology mistletoe was loved for its vibrant growth during harsh times and also for the fact that the branch, traditionally cut to decorate the home over Yule, was retained and gradually turned golden in colour over the following year (hence the “golden bough”).  I like the symbolism of it being able to enrich the home as time passes, as well as the immediate joy it can bring.

This print shows Loki guiding the blind god Hother to kill Balder
with a branch of mistletoe. (from an 18th century Icelandic manuscript)
Take mistletoe as a source of inspiration: I’m not espousing physically embracing your colleagues, but communicate with them, value them for who they are and what they bring.  Take advantage of the next few weeks to “kiss and make up”, so to speak - build bridges and strengthen relationships.  We rely on those around us and they are the secret to a golden future.

by Lois Wain

Monday, 9 December 2013

Changing Bulbs

On Sunday afternoon I spent a couple of hours planting bulbs in the garden.  It’s an annual event with me pitched against the squirrels, who seem to find crocus bulbs irresistible.  The match commenced a little later than usual, thanks to my hip, and, even now, I dread to think of what the neighbours made of my contortions, my bad leg sticking out behind me as I struggled to bend and make holes in the ground.  I like growing plants, it helps me keep life in perspective, we are always in such a hurry to get things done, but there are some achievements that you just cannot rush.  I am reminded of the story of the author of Zorba the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis, who, when walking through an olive grove, spotted a butterfly chrysalis cradled in the cleft of an olive branch.  The infant butterfly was just starting to break through the casing.  Nikos, eager to see the butterfly emerge, encouraged the young creature out of its cocoon.  Although out in the fresh air, it failed to open its wings and take flight, because its wings were too immature/premature to work effectively and, in horror and remorse, he watched the insect die.  It was his impatience to intervene in a process that he did not fully understand that denied the butterfly its existence.  We need to be mindful of the needs of others and give them the time they require to develop and grow.

Daffodil and crocus bulbs are unprepossessing objects - with their dry skins rustling as you handle them, they hardly seem alive as you place them in the ground.  Without casting aspersions, some employees can also be unprepossessing.  Often, they only come into their own once they have been given time to develop, prior to being put into a position where they have to shine.  This is worth bearing in mind when undertaking tasks such as succession planning.  Having the right people ready when you need them requires more than simply some names in a grid highlighting who (both internally and externally) is ready to step into a role now and who might be appropriate in the future.  It is important to think about how the world may change, so that skills not currently required can be developed and introduced.  My organisation has worked with an excellent future scenario planner, to help us consider what the social, political, demographical, economic, environmental and technical arenas may be like for us and our clients in years to come.  It will take at least a decade for us to know whether our predictions are correct.  The one thing we know with certainty is that the world will change and that we need to be able to respond and react.  Heraclitus said “there is nothing permanent except change”, but I quite like the words of CS Lewis:

“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg.  We are like eggs at present.  And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg.  We must be hatched or go bad.”

 I don’t claim to be a good egg, but I often think of bulbs when I am stepping into a fresh role.  It’s not because I am “soft” (to continue the egg metaphor) or that I don’t do “difficult conversations”, it’s actually because I think the business’ best interests are well served by my approach.  It is common for a new leader to want their own people around them, but I believe that there is much value to be gained from getting a bulb to light up again, as opposed to simply replacing it.  We are nearing time to decorate the Christmas tree and I quite like the task of hunting out the “dodgy bulbs” and ensuring they have a good connection and hence can shine.  I like doing the same with people.  Building rapport and trust is vital but brings rewards.  Institutional memory is crucial and, if you do not retain employees who were in an organisation/department prior to your joining it is much more difficult to discover what happened in the past and hence to appreciate why people react and respond as they do.  Clearly, there is little merit in retaining a person simply because of their length of tenure in a role, a good leader needs to be able to encourage exemplary performance from the individuals who report to them.  Even electric bulbs are responsive to their environment - a change in voltage can make them dim or bright and too much energy can make them blow in response to the excess electrical pressure - all good lessons for leaders to bear in mind.

Which brings me back to the bulbs I have buried in my garden - the tubers, bulbs and corms that require planting in the autumn (daffodils, crocuses, tulips, snowdrops, etc...) need to experience the harsh conditions of winter to stimulate their growth in the spring.  I know that it will take time for them to adjust to being in the soil (as opposed to being in a paper bag in a drawer).  There is nothing I can do to speed the seasons nor to hasten the process of their growth, although I can water and protect them from the worst of the elements and safeguard them with mesh to keep the squirrels at bay.  Having done what little I can to ensure their survival, the rest is up to them.  The power of nature is awesome and I am optimistic that I will have sweet scented narcissi in the Spring.  
Four Tulips c 1635 Jakob Marrel, Watercolour on vellum
You should never underestimate bulbs - like us, they have the resources that they require, buried deep inside them.  If you cut a bulb in half you can see that they have stored within the early stages of vegetation, stalks and even embryonic flowers.  Most of us have sliced an onion when cooking - if you study a half closely you can see that the outer layers are in fact swollen leaves and hidden at its core is a small stem that, if your onions have been in the larder/fridge a little long, sprouts easily.  Part of the reason why I have such a battle with squirrels is that crocuses and tulips are closely related to onions and are edible - indeed Audrey Hepburn survived famine in Utrecht in 1945 by eating tulip bulbs.  In the 1600’s tulip bulbs were in such demand - not for their culinary appeal but because of their exotic blooms (especially the elusive black flowering variety, which in reality does not exist) that their value exceeded that of precious metals and they were used instead of currency.  One bulb was worth the equivalent of $2,000.   At the peak of Tulip Mania, in March 1637, a bulb sold for ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsman.  An old equivalent of Bit-coin, in that the value was linked to speculation and the effort put into its creation (and a degree of good fortune also impacted the price).  Mind you you cannot eat a Bit-coin - they won’t save you in a famine.  Not sure I would recommend eating hyacinths either (even though they are classified as food by the European Union and are a regional delicacy in Puglia, Italy) - they exude a bitter, sticky, slimy goo as you cut and prepare them and require two days of soaking in clean water before they begin to be palatable.  Never eat daffodil or narcissi bulbs - they are toxic to humans (and even squirrels don’t like them).   Mind you, if required, they can make very functional weapons - a memory of my childhood is my mother (a keen gardener) leaping out of our car to shout at a collection of boys who were digging up the bulbs on a municipal site, using them like flails, holding the long leaves as they hit and hurled the daffodil bulbs at each other.  My mother’s wrath was formidable and the battle ceased.  Bulbs mean a lot to certain people. 
Rather than ending on a deadly or combative note, I’d like to finish with a grin, and leave you with some "Light Bulb Moments". So here are five of my favourite light bulb jokes 

I hope they raise a smile and brighten your week...

How many mystery writers does it take to change a light bulb?
Two: one to screw it almost all the way and then one to give it a really good twist at the end.
How many software programmers does it take to change a light bulb?
None - that’s a hardware problem.
How many actors does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, they don’t like to share the spotlight.
How many Chinese Red Guards dos it take to change a light bulb?
10,000 - to give the bulb a cultural revolution
How many L&D specialists does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, but the bulb really has to want to change.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Going Round the Bend

Much of my career over the past decade has revolved around effecting change - turning ideas into reality and helping people and businesses achieve and exceed their stated objectives.  Just recently, I was asked to design some training for a team who have a significant number of projects on the go and who needed to think a bit more about the human side of change.  After all, it is people that make change successful or who refuse to adopt the proposed new approaches and ways of working and hence, potentially impactful, projects and initiatives fail to deliver their anticipated benefits.  This post is a brief summary of what I told them...

In Chinese mythology the goldfish leaps the gate of learning to become a scholarly and masterful dragon.

As a consequence, I have used goldfish as a recurring theme, both to entertain and also to remind you that it is through applying what we learn that we can progress.
Fertilised goldfish eggs
Goldfish fry
Success at the end of the change process
Before considering the most effective ways of managing change, it makes sense to consider what drives change in the work environment.  The main reasons are:
  • Crises
  • Performance gaps
  • New technology
  • Market opportunities
  • Mergers, acquisitions and divestments
  • New leadership 
  • Planned abandonment (such as closing down a site or department)

Change is unlikely to occur unless the following formula is proved:

D = Dissatisfaction
V = Vision
P = Process

Rc = Resistance to Change
Cc = Cost of Change

Ease of Change =  (D x V x P) > (Rc + Cc)

When considering changing something it is worth asking a few simple questions, namely:
  • Why is this change necessary?
  • Is there enough dissatisfaction and who is discontented/why are they dissatisfied?
  • Is the vision clear?
  • Do we have a process/plan to achieve the change?
  • Who will be resistant and why?
  • For whom is there a personal or political cost?
  • What are the financial/economic/environmental factors that need to be considered?
Goldfish sculpture by Riusuke Fukahori
Having looked at the big picture, you need to become more personal and consider the actual people who will have to experience and embrace the change.  Individuals respond to change in different ways, partially because of the manner that they think about and process the world.  This depends on an individual’s locus of control.  Those who have an internal locus believe that they are the masters of their own destiny and hence usually respond well to change - they don’t think that the proposed future is being imposed upon them.   Individuals with an external locus of control perceive things as being done to them, and often dislike having others controlling their life.  Not surprisingly, the latter group find change tough, as they don’t feel in control of their own destinies.

Goldfish sculpture by Riusuke Fukahori
A good manager is sensitive to the people in his/her team.  According to research (initially undertaken by Elizabeth KΓΌbler-Ross, in response to individuals’ reactions to bereavement and known as the “five stages of grief”), most people respond to change in a similar manner (although the speed at which they do so varies).  Each person, on first hearing of imminent change, starts reacting by becoming shocked or anxious.  There follows a roller coaster ride of emotions, prior to a person embracing the change and moving on to operate successfully in a new way/environment.  It is crucial for a good leader to be aware of this process, known as The Change Curve, so that they can understand how people are thinking/feeling and help them to progress along it as swiftly as possible.  
It is easy as a manager to think that it is kinder to give people time to adjust, but by doing so you are perhaps just delaying the inevitable and making the change harder.  There are many good examples of leaders deliberately trying to get their people to the bottom of The Curve as swiftly as possible, so that their colleagues can start feeling more optimistic about the future.  The best recent story I have heard of this, that illustrates the need to get people “ to go round the bend”, was when an old factory needed to be pulled down to make space for a new state-of-the-art operation.  Generations of families had worked at the old site and it was a symbolic building within the community,commanding considerable emotional attachment.  It was only when management, in desperation, announced a prize raffle for two employees to be the ones to press the demolition button, to would blow up the old building, that the shocked employees really started ti appreciate that their former, familiar world was coming to an end.  It really helps to make people feel that they are involved in the process but it is also important to them that they believe that their voice is being heard.  Regular, honest communication is vital, including individual attention to help those who find the change particularly challenging.

By stopping people from worrying and gossiping you can:
  • prevent unnecessary anxiety,
  • reduce costs, 
  • bolster morale, 
  • encourage employee engagement with vision and the the process to get there and 
  • reduce the likelihood of errors.

Many people have tried to understand why change is unsuccessful.  One of the easiest academic models is John P. Kotter’s 8 reasons, which the primary causes for failure as:
  1. Not establishing a great enough sense of urgency
  2. Not creating a sufficiently powerful guiding coalition
  3. Lacking a powerful vision
  4. Under-communicating the vision
  5. Not removing obstacles to the new vision
  6. Not systematically planning for and creating short-term wins
  7. Declaring victory too soon
  8. Neglecting to anchor changes firmly in the corporate culture
The first four are due to a hardened status quo, the next three affect the introduction of new practices and the last prevents change from sticking.  If you think about past experiences, where a project or initiative has not gone smoothly, it is probable (barring an act of God) that the reason for things not going to plan are summarised by one or more of the above.  NB I count poor judgement of third parties’ ability to deliver what they have promised as included under “removing obstacles” and “not systemically planning”.
The opposite of Kotter’s reasons for failure provide a good framework for planning the stages of change.

Effective change requires leaders to believe in their own ability to make it happen and to inspire others into sharing the vision and wanting to achieve it with them.  Once there is a united desire to attain a specified goal and a clear route to do so has been defined and articulated, each person involved must take personal responsibility for their part of the process or initiative.  Nobody says that change is easy, but, with the right preparation and attitude, it is an attainable prize.

So I urge you not to let change intimidate you.  Go and be a dragon with your learning... (and celebrate with a slap up meal, once you have been successful).