Monthly Archives: September 2014


“The challenge in my life really is keeping the balance between feeling creatively energized and fulfilled without feeling overwhelmed and like I’m in the middle of a battlefield.” – Amanda Palmer

Change efforts can feel overwhelming when you are in the middle of implementing them, especially as you are balancing new work activities with existing ones. As a leader, how can you keep the balance between being energized and overwhelmed as Amanda Palmer states?

One approach that is tried and true, is to examine each work activity through the lens of urgency and importance. Below is a classic work prioritization model developed by Stephen R. Covey that Todd Thorsgaard highlighted in his blog, “So many demands,” last year.








Prioritizing before responding to work demands can help you remain energized, without being overwhelmed.

What approaches have worked best for you when managing your existing work load and balancing new change efforts?

Anita Rios



Painter’s tape for change initiatives

painter tape 1My daughter recently purchased her first house with her new husband. The two of them were very excited to get in there and start updating things, particularly the wall paint.  They agonized over samples, settled on a scheme, and arrived in the garage with a dozen cans of paint.

Then they spent the next week not painting.  As much as they were eager to start using the new brushes and rollers, there were a lot of steps that had to be done first. The walls had to be scrubbed and the edges had to be taped. Nails had to be removed and holes filled in. Outlet covers needed to be removed. It took a long time before any walls actually changed color.

Leading change initiatives can be like that.  We’ve identified a clear goal, obtained the needed resources, and are ready to see things happen.  The project team is anxious to start checking outcomes off the list. All that stuff about building the team, communicating with stakeholders, and assessing the change climate can feel very time-consuming and frustrating.

painter tape 2However, any experienced leader can tell you that without the proper preparation, the change initiative won’t be successful.  Just like painting the wall, if it’s not prepped properly, the new paint won’t stick. Scrubbing and taping is a lot of work up front, but it makes the overall process much easier. It’s a great feeling to finally remove the tape and see the new, fresh walls – drip free and ready to go.

One of the best tools for the preparation process is a project charter. While a charter is essential for any large change project, it can also be useful for smaller efforts. Creating the charter forces a leader to think through the goals, timelines, and assumptions for the change initiative. It also helps to identify the key stakeholders and what their roles should be.

There are many online resources for creating charters. Here are a couple of places to start:

– Bright Hub project management. What is a project charter?

– MindTools. Project charters

How have project charters helped with your change initiatives?

— Dee Anne Bonebright

How are we doing?

High performance doesn’t come from pills and potions. It’s a product of dedication and discipline.

I follow Joe Friel @jfriel, an endurance sports coach who focuses on the science and art of training and performance, and the above tweet popped up in my feed a few weeks ago. Successful change, the kind that leads to action, also requires dedication and discipline during planning, engagement of your people, and the tracking of progress. On Monday, Anita highlighted the importance of goals that are immediate or have a result that can be seen right away. Tracking those results and sharing that information with your team reinforces action and provides information on what is working and what needs to be tweaked.

The sports world has embraced the idea of tracking progress to reinforce action and to analyze results. People are using heart-rate monitors, power meters, GPS tracking devices, activity monitors and watches. With sites like TrainingPeaks or Strava they get immediate feedback on how they are doing related to key measures of action. Here is an example of my training during August. training log



Earlier in my career I worked for a large health care organization going through transformational change. Our goals focused on providing safe, timely, effective and patient-centered care. We developed an easy to read set of reports that were shared each week on the key actions and results. Work teams could then analyze how their actions affected the results and what they needed to continue doing and what needed to be done differently. Tracking progress and sharing the information directly with people led to continued commitment for further action.

Breaking your change into shorter goals and tracking the results will help sustain the energy needed for action and successful change. I know that tracking my endurance training helped me finish my first triathlon in over seven years and by the end of the season, a medal! medal

Todd Thorsgaard

Make big goals successful

success big goalLast week I heard a colleague lament that her change team was focusing so much on goals that were “low-hanging fruit,” that she and other team members feared that the big or long-term goals would never get accomplished. The value of addressing low-hanging fruit is often to give the team a burst of energy and sense of accomplishment by achieving a short-term goal. In my experience, I have worked with teams that have gotten sidelined because they did overfocus on low-hanging fruit that did not translate to longer-term goals. At the same time, I’ve seen teams spin their wheels during change efforts when they have too many big, long-term goals that seem too ambiguous and far out of reach.

Ann Latham, a change consultant at, says that the most successful goals are:

  1. Specific – the team knows what needs to be accomplished and has the tools to do it
  2. Certain – the goal is realistic and results are possible
  3. Immediate – the result can be accomplished fairly soon

By definition, big, long-term goals have the opposite characteristics of successful goals in that they are too big to be specific and certain and the result may be several years out. For instance, one of the big goals for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities in Charting the Future is to: “dramatically increase the success of all learners, especially those in diverse populations traditionally underserved by higher education.”  This is a big, long-term goal that the student success implementation team is wrestling with right now. They are in the midst of setting strategy and exploring possibilities, but at this moment in time, the goal can seem vague, uncertain, and far out into the future in terms of:

  • What specifically needs to be done to accomplish the goal? What are the steps?
  • Who can contribute to accomplishing the goal and what are their specific roles?
  • What is the timeline?  (including the measurements for accomplishing this goal and the milestones that should be met)

To make big, long-term goals successful, Ann Latham recommends breaking them down into chunks, so that are in fact a series of short-term goals, which are specific, certain, and immediate. If a long-term goal spans 5 years, consider how that goal can be broken into action strategies for the next five years, with each year moving the team or organization closer to the long-term goal.

I am confident that Charting the Future implementation teams will soon get to this point in architecting specific action strategies to accomplish MnSCU’s goals and I am excited to see the results of their work in the gallery walks that will soon be held on college and university campuses in our system.

From your experience, what has helped you and your team achieve long-term goals?

Anita Rios

Are you a GPS unit or a traffic cam?

I have an old Ggps free to usePS unit in my car – the kind that needs to have maps downloaded, which I haven’t done for about five years.  Mostly it’s accurate, but on one memorable occasion it wanted me to drive across what is now a pedestrian foot bridge. The voice was getting a little bit testy as I tried to find a way around it.

traffic camOn the other hand, I often look at the traffic reports before I travel to an unfamiliar location. They give me immediate feedback about which routes are preferable given current conditions. I seem to have encountered more than the usual amount of road construction this summer and it has been very useful.

As leaders, one of our important roles is to help project teams understand the traffic conditions. While the team is focused on the vision, goals, and tasks related to a particular change effort, leaders and sponsors need to be aware of the bigger picture.  This means we need to understand what else is going on.

For example, if your campus is anticipating an accreditation visit, searching to fill two senior leadership vacancies, and implementing a technology upgrade, now might not be the time to purchase a different HR information system (HRIS). The timing might have looked good on the HR master plan, but key staff are clearly already involved in other projects.  It’s probably wise to detour that project.

As leaders, we want to be sure are maps are up to date and accurate. We also want to check the current conditions and know where the road blocks might appear.  No matter how often the GPS unit told me to take the foot bridge, it was not going to happen. Sending a project team on that route with that map would be setting them up for failure.  As a leader, I need to steer them in the best direction by knowing how things have changed and what else is going on in the environment.

–Dee Anne Bonebright

Engaged, me?

We saved the hardest for last!  The 5th critical change management action identified by McKinsey &carter-who-me Company that Dee Anne described in her post, To support change – five to-do’s and one don’t, is to ensure that you, the leader, are fully engaged in the change.

In addition to clearly defining accountability and expectations, communicating and over-communicating, providing autonomy, and building that talented team, you also need to dive head first into the change and be a role model for action! Your people need to see you behaving differently before they do. Your actions demonstrate priorities, provide motivation and build confidence that it is ok to make a change. As defined by the MnSCU leadership competencies  in our 2013 blog posts, effective leadership starts with “leading yourself.”

The “P” or “practice” in the  C-P-R tool  I shared earlier this summer, can help you clearly identify the specific behaviors and actions that will increase your influence and demonstrate your full engagement. For each specific change outcome or action desired, a leader can identify the behaviors that they need to practice or demonstrate. The actions need to be visible and repeated over time to make change stick!

Watching you, their leader, try out new ideas and new behaviors will inspire others to take a risk and try something new and unleash the potential of your team and your organization. Give it a try!

Todd Thorsgaard

Form a talented team!

carrying log team“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”  – Helen Keller

Forming a talented team to move change plans into action is critical in driving transformation through an organization. But what should leaders consider when forming talented teams?

According to Michael Marquardt, author of Optimizing the Power of Action Learning, leaders should consider the following criteria and issues when selecting members for a team:

1) Commitment: members must have a commitment to and stake in getting the problem solved or the task completed. The change effort should be one that individuals care about and that needs to be implemented for the well-being of the organization.

2) Knowledge: one or more members should have some knowledge and understanding of the problem. Although expertise may be sought from outside the group, it is advisable for the group to have some knowledge within the team.

3) Power to Implement: ideally persons within the team will have the  power to implement the change. Alternatively, the organization or leader with the power to implement action has assured the group that the strategies proposed by the group will be carried out.

4) Familiarity: one or more members should be familiar with the context in which the change effort resides. Those with familiarity can provide background and depth to the other members. (One caution: individuals who are familiar with the issues may have a more difficult time seeing “outside the box.”)

5) Diversity: team members may be chosen from all different hierarchical levels of the organization, as well as diversity of race, gender, education, etc. Different perspectives enriches the team’s process and decision making.

When you think back to the most talent teams you have formed or have been a part of, what criteria was used for selecting members?

Anita Rios


Failure and success

A key strategy for leading change is to empower others to take initiative to support an organization’s change vision and goals. And one of the most important ways a leader can accomplish this is by creating a climate where it is safe to make mistakes.

As we all know, one of the side effects of innovation is failure. You can’t be part of major change efforts without taking risks, and not all risks work out. How we as leaders deal with failure is critical to creating an environment that fosters innovation.

failure free to useThere’s a new trend among some creative companies – the “Heroic Failure Award.”  This award is given an honored place along with the more typical recognition for success. The Wall Street Journal quoted an executive from one of these companies who believed that “if employees try something that was worth trying and fail, and if they are open about it, and if they learn from that failure, that is a good thing.” (Read the article here.)

A contributor to the Harvard Business Review blog made the case for failure even more strongly in a post on “Why I Hire People Who Fail“:

We don’t just encourage risk taking at our offices: we demand failure. If you’re not failing every now and then, you’re probably not advancing. Mistakes are the predecessors to both innovation and success, so it is important to celebrate mistakes as a central component of any culture.

Most of us have a hard time celebrating failure – our own or others’. This mindset may be holding us back from creating the kind of new and innovative solutions we need to address tomorrow’s challenges.

Can you identify a time when you tried something new, failed, and learned from it?

How do you typically respond to employees or colleagues who have failed?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Energize to act!

If you could double your investment without risk, would you? success-chartSeems like an easy question to answer. Assuming the offer was legal and ethical, I know I would take action and make that investment. According to a 2012 study by McKinsey and Company, ongoing communication doubled the success rate of transformational change. As a leader, you have the opportunity to double the likelihood of successful change in your organization by investing in communication.

We have highlighted the importance of communication in previous Higher EDge posts, including; Communication for buy-in, Communicate, communicate, communicate!, The 8th message, Creating a stakeholder communication plan, and Again? Yes! among others. If you are looking for communication tips and resources I encourage you to revisit a few of them.  The phrase, “eight times, eight ways” weaves through many of our communication posts so I hope you are not surprised that I am sharing the importance of communication again!

Why eight ways you ask? It actually may be overkill but recent work in neuroleadership demonstrates that individuals react differently and take meaning differently from the same message. In fact, Scott Keller and Carolyn Aiken, authors of An Inconvenient Truth About Change Management report that only about 20% of people are energized by the same style or type of message as you are! They describe 5 sources of energy or meaning. Most of us only “hear” one of them.

  1. Societal good
  2. Customer satisfaction
  3. Organizational success
  4. Work team well-being
  5. Personal fulfillment

To energize your stakeholders and move them to action you must first know what is important to each group of stakeholders. Next, leaders need to craft multiple stories to ensure that you connect with the different sources of energy individuals in each stakeholder group resonate with.  Eight times, eight ways is just the beginning.

Communication during the action phase of change helps provide the energy that people need to take accountability and ownership for actually changing their behavior and doing things differently. It also requires energy to continually communicate to multiple stakeholders, to use multiple methods of communication and to apply rigor and discipline to ensure engagement.

Your investment in communication creates the energy your people need to take action during transformational change.

Todd Thorsgaard

Increase ownership for change!

“People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!  – Peter Senge

Over the last couple decades, I’ve worked with many leadership groups going through small  and large-scale change efforts. In the process, I have also helped them explore their own attitudes towards change.  What is often very clear is that people are always more comfortable with change efforts  if they are involved in designing the change or are responsible for implementing it. It is much more scary to be on the receiving end of change, to have to adapt to changing processes or roles, without having a say in them.

In fact, according to a 2007 benchmarking study on best practices in change management, employee resistance to change is often due to the following factors:

  • Lack of understanding of why the change is happening and “What’s in it for me?” or “WIIFM”
  • Loss of control and ownership of work processes
  • Fear of the future state, including concerns over job security

One method of addressing these issues is to increase employee involvement in the change by recruiting employees to serve on implementation teams and to increase ownership by clearly defining roles, responsibilities, and levels of authority for each member of the team.

As Todd outlined in his “Who’s on first” blog: “Helping your teams discuss and document accountability, decision-rights, and roles allows cross-functional teams to understand each other better and take action.” He cited the RACI  tool, which is a simple matrix that can help  provide structure in clarifying roles, responsibilities and levels of authority.

If you haven’t checked it out yet and you have a complex change project with multiple stakeholders and team members, I’d encourage you to give it a try. It just might help you on the road to increasing ownership for change and reducing resistance.

Anita Rios