Change and loss aversion

Graphic of a question mark in the center of radiating rainbow-colored arrowsWhy do we want to create change?

Based on our actions (hello, New Year’s resolutions!), we think we want to change more than we actually do change.

And the same is often true of organizational change initiatives, as illustrated by the sad statistic that 70% of change initiatives either fail outright, or aren’t sustained over time.

That’s a really sad statistic, especially when we stop to think about the impact of that on people’s careers – and on corporate finances. I recently interviewed someone for a case study on strategic change who described a multi-million-dollar failure.

That is what one might call non-trivial, and there are, of course, many factors that played a part in the outcome. (The case study is for my new course Change Leadership: strategies for success.) 

The point I want to look at here is – what actually drives the desire for change, and how does that affect whether or not we succeed? Because it really is a whole lot easier to stay put with our established habits, routines, patterns, and ways of doing things. Neurologically speaking, the brain far prefers habit and routine – it doesn’t like to expend the extra energy it takes to create the new neural pathways that support doing new things or doing old things in new ways. 

So – why change?

Because ultimately, change is to solve a problem.

We create change to solve a *problem* - and that's important to remember even as we communicate a vision of the desired outcome.Click To Tweet

We don’t put ourselves through the stress and challenge of significant change – whether that’s establishing a new personal workout routine or implementing a new corporate-wide technology or taking on a new leadership role – whatever it may be – for grins and giggles.

We do it to solve a problem.

The new workout routine solves a health problem: we don’t feel well, we have poor stamina and can’t do the things we want to do, or we might even have a significant medical diagnosis.

Within organizations, new technology solves a competitive problem: the company is struggling in the marketplace and failing to attract new customers.

For our careers, taking on new leadership responsibilities solves a professional problem: we don’t want to be stuck in an unsatisfying role or feel like we’re not accomplishing our career goals.

And so on.

Change initiatives are often defined in terms of the desired outcome: being healthy and fit, meeting sales targets, achieving professional success.

We tend to forget – or not be aware – that loss aversion is a real thing. In brief, it simply states that we feel worse about losing $10 than we feel good about gaining $10. (The link on loss is to a behavioral science think-tank article; the link on aversion is to Wikipedia’s entry on loss aversion. Both open in new tabs.)

Therefore, when we define change initiatives, whether personal, professional, or organizational, we need to communicate the problem we’re solving as well as the outcome we desire.

What is the loss we will experience if we don’t complete this change? How will it impact us individually and as an organization?

Don’t leave out the “individually” part. Employees will understand the organizational impact of failure, but they will feel the impact that organizational failure could have on them, and it’s the feeling of loss that you need in order to help people understand the importance of their participation in the change.

So – define it. Why change? What is the problem you’re solving by undertaking this change initiative? What is the danger you face if you stick with the status quo?

Change leadership requires a different skillset from change management. For success, both are necessary; neither are sufficient on their own. You can see a short video on the challenges of change here.

And the course Change Leadership: strategies for success is available here.

gljudson Management & Leadership

When things are deeply weird

Silhouettes of businesspeople in shades of black and blue, standing in front of a windowAs leaders, how are we to handle events that happen outside the company, but have a significant impact on our employees?

This is a question that comes up more often than one might prefer.

On 9/11, I was still working in corporate, an executive in a midsize technology company on the U.S. West Coast. We had a number of employees travelling that day – salespeople on sales calls, consultants on site with clients.

I had to suggest to our CEO that we send a company-wide email message reassuring everyone that all our people were safe and that we were bringing them home as soon as possible. He seemed downright startled that I’d think this was necessary.

As Director of the consulting division, I also had to suggest to him that we establish policies for travel over the next few months. Would we require employees to get on a plane, even if they were anxious and potentially panicky? How would we handle requests not to travel? Would people willing to travel be rewarded in some way, and was that fair to those who weren’t because of their fears?

Tough questions.

Into every leader’s life comes a moment when they have to answer tough questions regarding external events. The pandemic raised questions and concerns about working from home, child care, how to manage and evaluate suddenly-remote employees’ productivity, what to do about coming back to the office, and would it even be legal to require employees to be vaccinated?

I can’t answer these questions. They’re all highly nuanced and relative to your individual company, your senior leadership, and the state or country in which your business is located and therefore to the local laws and regulations.

But I’m sure you, your HR leaders, and your senior executives have been and are (or should be) thinking about them.

And then we have the events in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, January 6th, 2021. Was it a riot, an insurrection, a protest that got out of hand? Whatever it was, and whatever events follow (as I write, the FBI is raising concerns about violence at all state capitols in the days ahead, preceding the inauguration on January 20th), employees are concerned, anxious, fearful, and looking to their leaders to provide some sort of guidance about what to think and how to behave.

Is it fair to you, as a leader, to have this responsibility?

Well, actually, yes. You’re a leader, and that means more than just delegating tasks, managing budgets, conducting performance reviews, setting strategy. It means that you have – hopefully, anyway – a certain status in the eyes of your employees, a level of authority that goes beyond just what happens during business hours.

As a leader, what do you say or do when external events have a real impact on your team and their productivity (and peace of mind)?Click To Tweet

Being a leader means setting aside your own beliefs and doing your best to understand that some people on your team – especially BIPOC* individuals who see the unmistakeable difference between how authorities responded to the events of January 6th versus those of Black Lives Matter protests, for instance – may be upset, triggered, and more anxious than you might consider reasonable. (If you’re a BIPOC leader, you already know this.)

Being a leader means making very sure that no one on your team is harassed in any way for their reaction or for their beliefs.

It means making very sure that anyone who might be hateful or potentially violent is not given the opportunity.

And it means understanding that productivity is going to wobble, at the very least, when there are challenges and upheavals such as these.

You have to decide how you’ll talk to your employees about what has happened, what may happen, and the unexpected things will inevitably arise in the future.

All I ask is that you refuse to do what that CEO did, at the company I worked for during 9/11. Don’t abdicate the responsiblity to speak to your people. Don’t fail to reassure them – if you can. (I’m sure I don’t have to say, don’t lie to them!) Don’t let your own anxiety keep you from acknowledging and empathizing with theirs.

You may be constrained by your senior leadership in what you can say – but please say something.

* BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and People Of Color

Leadership isn’t ever for the faint of heart. It requires emotional labor and can be exhausting, as I write here.

BIPOC is just one of many terms related to discrimination of all kinds. This glossary (updated to Version 7 last week) might help if there are terms you or your team aren’t altogether sure about.

gljudson Better conversations, Management & Leadership

Got misocainea?

New ideas are the lifeblood of business, creativity, learning, growth – of life itself.Cartoon of businessman reacting with fear at something on his computer screen

And yet so often we fight against them. We resist the threat of change that new ideas bring into our careers and our lives. 

Obvious case in point: how many companies proclaimed that they couldn’t have everyone working from home, it just wasn’t technically or operationally feasible.

And then came the pandemic, and guess what? The new idea – working from home – became a necessity instead of a “new idea.”

Misocainea: a hatred of new ideas. (With thanks to the Wordsmith’s Word a Day email.)

New word: 'misocainea' - a hatred of new ideas. Which gets in the way of change - and going back to some 'old normal' isn't the answer, either. Who's resisting new ideas???Click To Tweet

As we come into a new year, what new ideas have you been resisting?

Have you been yearning to go back to “normal”?

I confess I cannot wait to be able to go out to dinner again. So yeah, there are some “normal” things well worth going back to.

But definitely not the whole package.

So what new ideas could you look forward to, instead of resisting?

How can you introduce something new in your career? in your life? in your ways of leading and being a leader?

We need new ideas and new approaches to leadership, as I write here.

And in this new world of upheaval, we need to consider our place as leaders. What IS leadership, anyway?

CHANGE IS HARD, and that’s why I’m creating an online WORKSHOP. It’s in development with early-adopter pricing. Read all about it here.

gljudson Strategic thinking

We need a new view of leadership

Photo of a hand encircling the sunTo succeed in today’s pandemic and (hopefully soon) post-pandemic environment, companies must address the human side of work and leadership.

They must acknowledge the need for people to enjoy what they do, to have a sense that they’re accomplishing something worthwhile, and to feel that their leaders understand that work is part of life, not separate from it.

They need to recognize that work can and should be more fun – and that when it is more fun, the business is more successful. And that leaders have the most impact on making work fun – or not. (See Point #1 on my Manifesto.)

People aren’t born knowing how to be leaders, any more than they’re born knowing how to communicate, write code, or parse P&L statements. We may have a talent for speaking clearly, or for logic and the intricacies of software development, or for numbers and finance – or for how to connect, motivate, and inspire employees. But talent isn’t enough. Talent requires development in order to become an actual skill.

Whether you, as an individual leader, embark on a self-guided process of leadership study, or you engage with mentors, or you simply muddle along (as so many do!), you’re always learning something.

What leadership habits are you developing? Are they serving you, or holding you back? What would the people on your team say? Your peers? Your manager? Your family, friends, and community? (Because leadership is never limited only to the role you play at work. Nor is it something that only happens when you have an official title.)

And what is your company doing? I’ve heard from clients that their budget for Emerging Leaders programs has been cut back or eliminated entirely, which I think is – frankly – a big mistake. We need effective, forward-thinking leadership now more than ever; this is a time to invest in leadership development, not cut back!

It's time to think about leadership differently, and develop the skills for forward-thinking, empathic, strong leaders ... who can also make work more FUN!Click To Tweet

As individuals and as companies, it’s clear we need to be thinking about leadership in different ways than before. And that’s a fabulous opportunity – an opportunity to recognize that leadership is a way of being, not a set of rules to follow, and that learning the skills of effective, empathic, strong leadership is something we can all benefit from, individuals and companies alike.

Not having a budget does NOT mean you can’t develop skills, either individually or within your organization. Here’s an article on Leadership Development during the pandemic (without a budget) – and here’s my YouTube video on the same topic.

I mentioned that leadership isn’t limited to work or to a specific role or title. So what IS leadership, anyway?.

gljudson Management & Leadership

Stress, anxiety, exhaustion – it’s Pandemic Brain!

Dizzy, confused emoji“What’s wrong with me?”

More than one client has said that to me in the past few weeks.

“What’s wrong with me?”

One client is exhausted. Another is anxious – “for no reason.” And then there’s the lack of normal productivity, the difficulty thinking clearly, the unexpected challenge of making decisions.

“I’m really lucky. I have a good job. I’m healthy. Everyone in my family is healthy. What’s wrong with me?”

It’s pandemic brain…

The human body and brain aren’t designed for long-term, undifferentiated stress. We’re designed for short-term bursts of specific, situational, reactive energy – such as a saber-toothed tiger leaping out of the bush, or a car bearing down on us unexpectedly.

But long-term, undifferentiated stress is where we’ve been for the last nine or ten months, with no real end in sight.

It’s hard, even when we consider ourselves to be more fortunate than many others.

Struggle isn’t relative

My client was compounding their stress by blaming themself for feeling stressed.

Given the good job, good health, healthy family, they were convinced they should feel just fine.

Nope. The stress is real. The challenges of not being able to do the things we normally do is real. Can’t go to the gym. Can’t go to the movies. Can’t go out for a date. Can’t, can’t, can’t do all the things that keep us grounded, content, and even happy.

Just because you see others who appear to be in greater difficulty than you, doesn’t mean you’re not struggling. “Compare and despair” isn’t just about seeing people who are better off, and wondering why you’re not; it’s also about seeing people who might be worse off, and feeling bad because … you feel bad.

Stop it.

Emotional labor is hard work

Emotional labor is a real thing. It takes energy and it’s exhausting.

Your brain weighs only about three pounds. But it’s a greedy little organ: it gobbles up roughly 20% of the energy (food, calories) you take in each day (depending on how much physical activity you do).

Thinking through things. Feeling feelings. Managing your stress. Managing your team’s stress. Managing your boss’s stress. Managing your family’s stress.

It’s WORK. Hard work. As one client commented, it can be even harder work than physical exertion.

So yeah, you’re exhausted. It’s not imaginary, there’s nothing wrong with you, you’ve just been working REALLY HARD.

Stress is emotional labor, and emotional labor is Hard Work. Just because someone else might be having more problems than you are, doesn't mean you're not having problems. Give yourself a break!Click To Tweet

Give yourself a break

Breathe. Rest. Sleep. Eat well. Move. Drink your water.

Recognize that your team is going through this as well, even if they haven’t said anything about it. Give them a break. Acknowledge it. Name the elephant in the room: most people are wondering what’s WRONG with me? right now. Share this article with them.

We aren’t built to deal with this type of ongoing, long-term uncertainty and stress. Unfortunately, we have to deal with it anyway. So, do the best you can, and recognize this:

There is nothing wrong with you

Your feelings of anxiety and exhaustion are normal given these abnormal circumstances, and, yes, it will be over eventually – we just aren’t allowed to know when or how.

Breathe. Rest. Sleep. Eat well. Move. Drink your water.

And give yourself a hug. You’re doing great.

gljudson Management & Leadership

Down with Mandatory Fun!

Photo of a fierce-looking fluffy cat with the text "You will have fun. It is not an option."What in the world will we do about the holiday party?!

Let’s just start right here: no Zoom parties, please. Everyone is Zoomed out with meetings. And getting together on Zoom to raise a glass and pretend we’re all together is not going to cut it. 

In fact, Mandatory Fun has never been actual fun for everyone. Undoubtedly some people enjoy the games or random questions intended to create team bonding, but for others, those activities are painfully awkward and often cheesy. (You can probably tell which camp I belong to…)

And yet, there is a need to gather together in some way. Leaders want to express appreciation for their employees’ efforts, especially in this surreal, intense, stressful year.

So what to do?

Get creative.

There are online shows – and, yes, many are done through Zoom, and I know I just said no Zoom, but this isn’t your everyday Zoom gathering. I haven’t actually experienced this show, but it comes recommended from a number of credible sources. And if you Google “virtual holiday shows,” you’ll find that major institutions such as the Washington Ballet, the Kennedy Center, the San Francisco Ballet, and others – too many to list – have made some wonderful experiences available online, often at no cost. Tap your IT department to set up a shared viewing experience, perhaps with intermission or post-show conversation, and you might find your employees having a better time this year than ever before.

You can also find virtual escape rooms online, and the escape room experience can be more fun than you might expect. I freely admit that my husband dragged me kicking and screaming to my first escape room, and I immediately became addicted. Since then, I’ve done escape rooms with clients, and even the doubters were quickly convinced. I haven’t (yet) tried a virtual escape, but why not? In researching for this article, I’ve started planning to do one with said husband – though for that, I may need to drag him kicking and screaming to the event!

Whatever you do, do something. People need the comfort of gathering together in some form during this holiday season. At first I thought I was imagining things, but an article I came across confirmed it: people really have been putting up their holiday decorations much earlier than usual, and I think it’s the desire for a sense of celebration and community, even if we can’t safely get together in person.

Holiday party Mandatory Fun *isn't* necessarily very fun. And there are other options, even in this weird year, for an awesome holiday party!Click To Tweet

Be creative. Avoid Mandatory Fun. Instead, make this year’s holiday party something people will remember as fabulous not despite the virus, but because it was great.

How do you understand the best ways to reward your team? It’s not the same for everyone, as this article suggests!

gljudson Management & Leadership

Hey. Thanks!

Multicolored speech bubbles with the words THANK YOU in multiple languagesIt’s Thanksgiving week here in the United States.

Thanksgiving is traditionally a time to “be thankful” for what we have.

Depending on how you look at it, we either have a lot to be thankful for, or notsomuch, or somewhere in between. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary, and I’m not here to tell you how you “should” feel. These are, to say the least, strange and stressful times for everyone.

And I’m not really a fan of traditional gratitude practices. I know, I know, there are entire businesses built around gratitude, endless apps for your phone, and, yes, research showing that gratitude is good for you.

Like so many things, what’s good for you in certain applications can be harmful in others. I’ve seen – and experienced – too many instances where formal gratitude practice leads to resentment and feeling that one “should” be glad for what one has and therefore not want more.

Baloney. (Insert your preferred expletive there.) Not wanting more is complacency – numbness – the end of growth. We all do want more, even if we don’t always admit it.

(Please note that by “more” I don’t mean more STUFF. Unless, of course, you need more stuff! No, I mean … more satisfaction, more fun, more pleasure, more joy, more meaning, more YOU being YOU.)

So, again, your mileage may vary. You may not agree with what I’m saying, and that’s just fine. But here’s my perspective.

  • I’m glad about what I have.
  • I’m grateful to myself for my efforts in creating the good things in my life. I’m also aware that I am responsible for some (NOT ALL – let’s not go all negative Law of Attraction here) of the not-so-good things in my life.
  • And I’m grateful for that awareness and for knowing I can create change.
  • I’m thankful to the people in my life who support me.

Thus we come around to Thanksgiving.

So my suggestion is that this year, in addition to (or instead of?) whatever gratitude practice or family tradition you may have, think about who in your life you should say “Thank you!” to.

And then do it. Whether in an email, a phone call, an e-card (I’m a big fan of Jacquie Lawson’s delightful animated cards), a text message, a snail-mail card – whatever it is – tell someone “Thank you.”

Suggestion for a new Thanksgiving tradition: say 'thank you' to someone in your life. Don't forget to tell them *why* you're thanking them -- and include yourself on that list!Click To Tweet

Don’t forget to tell them why you’re saying “Thank you.” Because the why is important.

And you know what? You could tell yourself “Thank you!” as well, for all the things you’ve done to stay upright and at least reasonably functional this year.

Hey. Thank you for reading!

gljudson Better conversations

Who needs help?

Photo of a label reading ASK MORE on a background of yellow leavesSomeone on your team needs help.

Maybe it’s one of your colleagues.

Or someone on your leadership team.

Or one of your first-line or middle managers.

Maybe you’re the one who needs help.

People in your organization need help.

They’re overwhelmed with a project deadline. They’re trying to figure out how to manage from home. They’ve offered to help someone else, and now they’re drowning in unexpected extra work. They’re trying to learn something new – whether it’s a technical thing or an interpersonal leadership challenge – and struggling.

But no one is asking for help.

People don’t ask for help. We’re not good at it, for a whole host of reasons.

People want to help.

Studies have proven over and over again that, when asked, people give help far more quickly and reliably than those asking expect them to.

So flip it around. Ask them.

Ask your team – who needs help?

Ask your colleagues – who needs help?

Ask your leadership groups – who needs help?

And ask yourself – what do you need?

This isn’t you helping everyone else.

There are a ton of options for creating what’s called a “Reciprocity Circle,” where people ask a group for help and whoever’s able offers.

A Slack channel. A company Wiki. A Workplace by Facebook group – or even a regular garden-variety Facebook group. Microsoft Teams. A Trello board.

Basically, any way for people to asynchronously post a request for help or a question they have – and whoever has the capacity or knowledge can respond.

Encourage people to ask for help.

Just think how much better your workplace (and families and communities) would be!

What would happen if more of us asked for help when we need it? We think we're supposed to power through - but - people actually like GIVING help, so - why not ask?Click To Tweet

When your teams ask questions – do your first-line and mid-level leaders know the answers?

And on the subject of asking – are you nervous to ask for what you want in your career? There’s no Career Fairy Godmother! You have to ASK!

Or maybe someone keeps asking the same question, over and over. That article explains what might be going on, and includes a link to a video.

gljudson Management & Leadership

What IS leadership, anyway?

Photo of four origami boats following the lead of a fifthLeadership is not a title.

It’s not limited to a specific role or job or work to be done.

Leadership is a way of being.

It’s how you are in the world, what you say and what you do, and whether those words and actions are aligned and congruent – and even if they’re not.

You may be thinking you’re not a leader – but I believe everyone is a leader.

Not in the “you can do anything you want” sort of fluff.

You are a leader in what you say and what you do, in person or on social media.

There are people who are observing you who may model their behavior on yours, or who are influenced by you in some way.

This can be as seemingly small as the smile you offer a neighbor on your way to the mailbox, or as harsh as the screaming fight you engage in with a family member or in your neighbor’s driveway – or whether you choose not to engage in the screaming, whether in person or online in social media.

People are looking at you and reading what you post. People are looking at you in the office and on Zoom and in your emails, and observing your behavior and hearing your words.

When we take a stand for something – anything at all – we are showing others what’s possible. By what we say and do, we give others permission to say and do something similar. We’ve seen this, writ large, in the political arena of the last four years.

What permission are your words and actions giving to others?

Our actions reveal who we are as leaders - even if we don't have the offical title. What we say and do gives others permission to act in similar ways. I'm thinking about how I show up and what permission I'm offering!Click To Tweet

Think about yourself as a leader. And remember this:

“Leadership is a tool, not a value, and effective leaders can be abhorrent forces in the world. I try to remind myself never to say admiringly that someone is a great leader. Instead I try to be more specific. Not all great leaders are leaders for good.”  ~ Ryan Derousseau

Good leadership – compassionate, sensible, grounded leadership – is desperately needed, now more than ever.

How are you showing up as a leader?

This is a core component of the Manifesto for my work, which you can read here.

How are you perceived by your team and your colleagues? Maybe not quite as you might prefer: Are you scary?

Maintaining, developing, and supporting the corporate culture is a key aspect of leadership. Here’s the link to the Virtual Corporate Culture Communication Challenge. The interactive portion of the Challenge is over, but I think you’ll find the material helpful to work through on your own – and I answer all comments. 

gljudson Management & Leadership

Do your first-line managers know?

Photo of a blackboard with a thought-bubble in chalk, and a lightbulb in the center of the bubbleYour first-line managers are your first line of defense against misinformation and rumor.

They’re the ones to whom employees look for critical information.

  • How are you managing employee safety?
  • What are the new processes for performance evaluation?
  • Can employees be reimbursed for home-office expenses?
  • Are there flextime options for parents whose kids are learning at home, instead of in school?
  • What about non-parents – what options are available for them? (This is not a trivial point; people without children can and will get resentful if they feel excluded from consideration. No question that parents have a hard time right now, but don’t forget your child-free employees; they’re stressed too.)

These are just a few of the many questions your first-line leaders are being asked.

Have you provided them with the answers?

Do your first-line managers know how to answer the questions their teams are asking? Help them reduce stress and anxiety and improve productivity by making sure they're prepared.Click To Tweet

Everyone is stressed. Information – reliable, consistent information – is essential for managing and reducing anxiety. Ensuring that your first-line managers have answers to the questions your employees are asking simply makes sense, both from a standpoint of compassion and from the perspective of productivity and the bottom line.

After all, the less stressed and more informed your workforce is, the better they’ll be able to focus on their jobs.

Need tips on training your first-line managers? This video might help: Leadership Development without a budget.

Another video to help with the challenges of these times: Leading Through Uncertainty: a call to action.

Did you download the Glossary of Terms yet? It’s an extensive (but always incomplete and growing) list of terms relative to many of the challenges of these times.

gljudson Management & Leadership