Change in the Workplace: 5 Tips for Leaders

How should leaders deal with “always on” change in the workplace?

Are you a creature of habit? I can be. I like to go to only a few places for lunch. The folks at Franklin’s know my order by heart. I wear a sail rigger shirt and jeans to work every day. In the winter I add a sweater. When I work out (not often enough) I do the exact same routine.

Maybe you like change. Sometimes I do too. I am an early adopter of technology. I love to try out new apps. Or new restaurants when I travel. I am regularly (I’m sure my team would way too regularly) tweaking or updating our books, publications, websites, training materials, and more.

The thing is, I can be very resistant to change in some areas of my life, and really excited by changes in other areas. Can you relate?

We often talk about change in the workplace as if people universally resist it. Change is something that happens to people. It’s something you coax or persuade them to do. Change – especially fast-paced change in the workplace – is something people resist. Except when they don’t.

(Check out our recent article on the 3 Reasons People Resist Change).

That’s how Jim Hemerling invites us into his discussion on approaching change in the workplace. He distinguishes between how change makes us feel in our personal lives and how we often think about it at work.

Hemerling reminds us that sometimes we do like change.

Think about people in your life who have made changes in their life. Losing weight or training for a half marathon. Moving into a new place. Competing in cross-fit or a triathlon. Starting a new side project.

People get excited and passionate when they make big decisions for themselves. They think about it and talk about it all the time. They push through any obstacle that gets in their way, and are proud of their progress.

But most change in the workplace is different. We often don’t get to choose to make a change at work; it is forced upon us.

That’s why as leaders we have to reexamine our approach to change. Especially in our world of “always on” transformation. Because if we don’t find a way to make work change more like these positive changes in our lives we will exhaust our people. They’ll give up on change.

What is the right strategy for creating excitement instead of dread when a new process or change in structure is proposed?

Hemerling suggests modeling your strategy off how people approach change in their personal lives. And in order to do that, he says, you must put people first. He outlines 5 keys:

5 Strategic Imperatives for Putting People First

  1. Inspire through purpose.
  2. Go all in.
  3. Enable people with the capabilities that they need to exceed during the transformation and beyond.
  4. Instill a culture of continuous learning.
  5. Leaders must be directive AND inclusive.

I’ll let you dive into these imperatives in his TED Talk above. But this is a must watch. Not only does Jim break down the mindset behind people’s approach to change with wisdom and insight, you even get a glimpse into one of my favorite companies (OK, and favorite toys) LEGO.

(Click for more on The Hidden Key to Solve Resistance to Change).

After watching, please take a moment to tell us about your experience with change in the workplace? Have you noticed a difference between how you feel about changes in your personal life versus your life at work? Do you think these 5 Strategic Imperatives make a difference?

Strategy Execution: What You’re Not Thinking About

Can your kid’s X-Box teach you strategy execution?

I got to spend some quality time with my kid and her X-Box this weekend while we survived the second straight week of major winter weather events that weren’t. Her favorite game is Forza, a car racing game that is amazingly accurate. Well, other than the part where you paint your Bugatti pink.

One of the things I like about Forza is that as you go flying through the race course it shows you the proper line for making a turn. My daughter is a pro. She negotiates the turns like her last name is Andretti and wins almost every race she’s in. But when I first start playing I often turn too fast or too slow. I try hard to avoid the walls but usually hit them head on. Then I remember the classic advice: “Focus on the road, not the wall.” Suddenly I start looking like I know how to drive a car in real life.

Is there a secret to successful strategy execution?

Like making a 200 mile per hour turn in Forza, strategy execution is hard. In addition to running a consulting business, I also serve on the Board of Directors for EO Oklahoma and volunteer as a middle school debate coach. As a leader, I have a vision for what I think should happen in each of these organizations. Like that arrow on the road, vision is easy. Turning that vision into reality? Hard.

One of my “must reads” each month is Harvard Business Review. They’ve featured numerous articles on strategy execution over the past two years. Check them out here, herehere, and most recently here. These articles debate the correct steps for successful strategy execution. How do you define a successful strategy? Who should be in charge of implementation and execution? Are implementation and execution two different concepts?

These debates have raged for more than 25 years. And why shouldn’t they? Especially when 75% of organizations fail to implement their strategy. Peter Bregman, who wrote HBR’s most recent article on the topic, argues that Execution is a People Problem, Not a Strategy Problem. I couldn’t agree more. Bregman’s article provides a simple blueprint for leaders to follow the next time they’re looking to implement a new strategy. I recommend everyone take the time to read it. But, if I may, I’d like to focus on this one point.

Execution is a People Problem.

Peter Drucker famously said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” And this is the biggest challenge facing strategy execution. If your team isn’t on board, your strategy ain’t going anywhere. This is why I argue (and a lot of research backs me up) that Approachable Leadership is the best lever you can pull if you want to improve your organization’s ability to deal with change.

Make no mistake. A good strategy is vital to any successful business or organization. Whether you are reorganizing a department or launching a new product or building a top notch safety record, you will not succeed without a good relationship with your team. Successful strategy execution begins and ends with people. If you don’t get it right at the beginning, you’ll never make it to the end.

Think about this for a second.

What’s the main problem your first line leaders encounter when implementing a new strategy? Pushback from those they lead. Sometimes the pushback is obvious, like openly complaining about a change or flat out refusing to do it. But it’s usually much more subtle. Continuing to do what you’re comfortable with or letting other things take priority. Begrudgingly following through all the while looking for evidence that the new change won’t work. Sometimes this passive-aggressive behavior is on purpose. A lot of the time your team won’t even know they are doing it.

Whether you are dealing with an employee, a volunteer, or a teenager, a leader faces the same challenge. When you notice resistance to the vision do you make the “Villain” assumption or the “Hero” assumption? The “Villain” assumption means you believe your teammates are trying to railroad your vision. If you choose the “Hero” assumption you believe instead that your teammates want to be great. If you make the “Hero” assumption then resistance means there is an obstacle in the way or a resource is missing.

The assumption you make is up to you. But whichever assumption you make will change your own behavior. If you are making the “Villain” assumption you are watching the wall through your turn. And boom! You lead your team exactly where you don’t want to go.

If you make the “Hero” assumption you (and your team) are looking at the road. Sure, the wall is there, but if you work together on making sure everyone sees the line clearly the turn will take care of itself. If your teammate sees problems with the strategy you should listen. They are closest to the action. Maybe there is a better way. Perhaps you are steering toward the wall without even knowing it.

If I can distil any bit of knowledge from my 20+ years working to improve relationships inside troubled companies, it’s this:

Everyone Has Something to Teach You

Strategy execution is complicated. You can’t possibly know everything there is to know about all the variables. And like a fast-moving car, the conditions around you are constantly changing. But if you start with the assumption that everyone has something to teach you, your success rate will be far better than most. When you invite input from all levels of your organization, your strategy will be stronger. And when people feel that their concerns have been heard and acknowledged, their willingness to execute the new strategy is also stronger. You’re all looking at the road, not the wall.

Have you ever struggled with strategy execution? When have you found the answer to a challenge comes from others? How do you let your team know that you want to learn from them? What do you think you can learn from your teammates?


Proud Day at Approachable Leadership

I received a great gift last week.

My former intern Cameron Brown had a bound copy of his dissertation on leader approachability delivered to my office. I am proudly displaying it on my shelf next to a couple of other authors I admire (my Dad and another guy named Wilson 🙂

His dissertation is titled: Leader Approachability: What Is It? What Is It Good For? And Who Needs It? Cameron did an amazing job of answering all three questions. You’ll hear more about it this year, but it reinforces a lot of what we’ve been teaching about the importance of leader approachability over the last few years.

To me, the best part about being a leader is watching your folks learn and grow. Here are two great actions you can take today to reconnect with this key leadership behavior:

  1. Reach out to someone you helped learn and grow and just see how they are doing. Let them know you are thinking about them and that you are proud of what they’ve accomplished.
  2. Reach out to someone who helped you learn and grow. Let them know how much they meant to you and the progress you’ve made in your life.

I know it’s early in January, but do these two things and this will be your best day of the new year so far.

New Year, Same Resolutions: 3 Questions to Ask Yourself

The New Year showed up again.

If your office is anything like mine, that means a lot of talk about resolutions and a “better me.” Personally, I love this time of year. It encourages people to reexamine their lives, their actions, their work ethic, their discipline and their dreams.

I use this time to revisit my life plan and my goals. I reflect on what I accomplished and recommit to working harder on the things I didn’t. For me, and for many others, these “resolutions” (if you want to call them that) tend to cover the same areas year after year. Mine are things like:

  • Make better decisions for my health. Like eating Paleo, doing my morning reading on my exercise bike (instead of sitting at the kitchen table), and drinking more water.
  • Find a way to stay involved with my daughter and her friends. For the past couple years, it’s been by coaching her debate team.
  • Make sure I prioritize dates with my amazing wife. Anyone who owns a business or travels a lot can feel me on this one. Although, this is a good resolution for most people and their spouses regardless of their situation.
  • ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS work on practicing what I preach – that is, Approachable Leadership. Get to know my team better. Show gratitude. Be warm, open, and available.

And then, of course, there’s this one other thing. 

For me, it’s the glue that keeps my other resolutions on track: to hike. Let me explain.

That same reexamining and recommitment that everyone does around the New Year happens to me whenever I hike. I have a sign on my wall that is a constant reminder. It reads, “Solvitur Ambulando,” which is Latin for, “It is solved by walking.”

The problem is, I don’t make it happen near as often as I should. It seems that’s the way with these kinds of resolutions, right?

We recognize that this one thing is the thing we need to make happen. Because, for lack of a better phrase, it’s the keystone.  Then before you know it, everything else seems so much more important. And that one thing falls by the wayside.

What is your one thing?

Last year I resolved to finish my quest to complete the Ozark Highlands Trail (or OHT). If you’re into hiking or absolutely stunning scenery and you haven’t been to northwest Arkansas, GO. You won’t regret it.

I get so motivated and focused after a day on the trail. Not that there aren’t distractions in the woods. I’ve encountered everything from bears and rattlesnakes to the most beautiful sunsets and vistas I’ve seen anywhere. But these are much different distractions from my usual day-to-day phone calls, emails, and texts. The OHT pushes your physical and mental toughness at the same time it’s stretching your soul.

Whenever I can make it happen – which isn’t often enough – I like to hike with good friends like Greg Kittinger and Mike McBride. My wife and daughter also join me and last year’s hike they even joined me for a leg on the OHT. Unfortunately, I only made it out to the OHT one weekend last year. This year I resolve to do much better.

For those of you that have done any work with our firm, you probably recognize Greg. He heads up our Business Development and is a key part of the developing and deploying our Approachable Leadership content. Greg is a lifelong learner and on the Board of our local Association for Talent Development chapter.

When I think about resolutions or hiking the OHT, I can’t help but think about 3 questions Greg texted me from a recent ATD conference. The 3 questions are:

  1. Where do you want to go?
  2. What are you currently carrying that is not needed or harmful?
  3. What do you need for the journey?

These are powerful questions. When you are heading into the woods these questions can mean the difference between a great day and a horrible one. Do you have enough water? How about something to eat? Maps? The right clothes? And taking too much on your journey can be just as bad as not enough. The pack gets heavier the longer you have to carry it.

What do you need for your own journey? As you think about your goals for this year, ask yourself these three questions. Whether you are setting a personal, professional or leadership goal, you could do a heck of a lot worse than starting with these questions.

Now how can you apply these three questions to your leadership?

One of the important lessons we teach in our workshop is that your team members usually don’t want you to fix their problems. But most leaders can’t help themselves. And the second you start thinking about how to fix their problem you are no longer focusing on the only thing that matters: making a connection.

Your folks want to be understood. They need to know you have faith in them to fix their own problems. They may need an obstacle removed or a tool to help them do that. Often, the only tool a person needs is a fresh perspective. These questions are a great way to provide just that.

I encourage you to use these questions the next time a coworker comes to you with a problem. Or the next time you’re heading into the woods.

What resolutions did you set for yourself? How about for your leadership? Remember that all that matters is that we’re consistently trying to improve. Be kind to yourself, especially when you veer off the trail. Just get back on as soon as you can. Happy New Year!

PS This picture is of me at mile marker 99 of the OHT. Yes, my trail-wear is a little unorthodox. In cooler weather, I always wear a Sail Rigger oxford shirt (pretty much the only shirt I wear). In this case over one of my favorite t-shirts, which sports a picture of The Bard and a quote that I’m pretty sure isn’t accurate.

Approachability Playbook Released on Amazon: Bonus Offers

Most of you know I love music.

I was listening to a favorite Spotify playlist when I started this post. In the nick of time a classic song inspired me. Many dreams come true…some have silver linings (Recognize the lyric? Scroll to the bottom to see if you’re right!)

In addition to music I am passionate about leadership. I’m excited to announce we just released The Approachability Playbook today on Amazon. You can get a Paperback or a Kindle version. This is the First Edition of The Playbook. That’s a dream come true. Now for the silver lining…


You can get The Playbook on Amazon. We have some great bonuses for anyone who buys a copy, writes a review, or tells their friends to grab a copy. Check out the bonuses here. If you want the details on the bonus offers read on. Now get back to work 😉


Since many of you already have a copy (or more) of the Preview Edition of The Playbook (thanks!), you may be wondering: Why “launch” a First Edition? What’s the difference between the Preview Edition and the First Edition?

playbook-first-edition-3d-box-shotIS THIS EDITION DIFFERENT? The First Edition is an edited version of The Playbook based on feedback we got from readers of the Preview Edition. But note: this release is substantially the same as the Preview Edition (thankfully most of the feedback was great). DO NOT buy a copy of the First Edition expecting it to be a lot different from the Preview Edition. There are some differences but you’ll have to look carefully to spot them.

WHY THE LAUNCH? This is the first time The Playbook is available on Amazon. We have a good chance to make this an Amazon bestseller which gives us a chance to spread the word about Approachability to a much wider audience. That’s why we need YOUR help.

If you already have a Preview Edition of The Approachability Playbook you got to the party early. It would really help us spread the word if you could give us a review on Amazon or tell your friends about our launch on Facebook, LinkedIN, Twitter or any other social media you use. A friendly email works great too.

While many of you would do this just to help us spread the word, we want to give you a little something for your effort. Hence, the “silver lining” bonuses.

We’ve got two special gifts for you. You can qualify for one or both by taking the actions below:

learn-lead-huddle-3q-deck-slide5BONUS 1 ($500 value)Learn and Lead Huddle Training Session. This is BRAND NEW training. Be one of the first to see this exciting new way to train your leaders about Approachable Leadership. Teach your team to use the 3 Questions of Approachable Leaders. This complete training module includes a Facilitator Guide (including our Quickstart Guide and Facilitator Webinar where we walk you through the module step-by-step), PowerPoint Deck, Video, Handouts, and Exercises for the team. You also get up to 10 Action + Leadership Journals. These Journals help your team track their progress after completing the Huddle. Additional Journals are $9.99 each.

HOW TO QUALIFY FOR BONUS 1: Show us that you encouraged your network to check out The Playbook on Amazon. Make sure you use #ALPlaybook in your message on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter or tag us on your message. If you send out an email just copy us on the email. Here is an example message you can copy and paste:

I just got The Approachability Playbook. Get yours! #ALPlaybook

action-leadership-journal-3dBONUS 2 ($14.99 value): Action + Leadership Journal. These are also BRAND NEW. This 168-page Journal is designed specifically to help you improve your follow-up and follow-through skills while building your Approachable Leadership. The Journal will track follow-up actions for a full quarter. you can learn more about the Journal here.

HOW TO QUALIFY FOR BONUS 2: Either purchase a copy of The Playbook on Amazon or write a review if you already have a copy. Send us your receipt or order number from Amazon, or send us a screenshot of your review. Then order the Journal from the bonus page and we will ship as soon as we’ve confirmed your purchase or review.

You can see all the details (and take advantage of one OR both bonus offers) by visiting our Bonus Offer page.

Thank you so much for being a part of our Approachable Leadership community and for spreading the word about The Approachability Playbook to your network. We really appreciate it!

Stay tuned for more exciting news in the next few weeks and enjoy your bonuses. Stay Approachable!

P.S. The lyric is from Led Zeppelin’s Over the Hills and Far Away. “Many times I’ve wondered how much there is to know.” The playlist is called XRTish inspired by my favorite Chicago radio station. Rock on.