Let Go to Go Forward

I was thrilled to be invited back to partner once again with a US/Japanese joint venture steel mill that I helped start-up in the early 1990s.  As their union-management leadership team informed me, many of the “old timers” who started up the place with me are retiring, and they want to ensure that the very unique – and highly successful – team-based work culture lives on for the next generation.  We’re working together to re-energize the culture and mentor the new recruits to continue to be world-class into the next many decades.

During one of my recent meetings at the plant, a furnace operator was sharing his perspective on the root cause of some of the problems with the work culture, and why there is a gap between our initial vision and current reality.  His passion was palpable in how he talked about the people and the founding work culture ideals.  He talked about how one of the former plant managers had damaged the system, taking away resources, and trying to revert to a more autocratic, top-down managerial approach.

That plant manager has not worked in the steel mill for over five years!

What leapt to my mind was the old story about the two Buddhist monks:

A young monk and his older mentor were walking in the woods.  They came across a fast-running river.  A woman was standing on the side of the river, and could not cross it.  The old monk carried her across, set her down on the other side, and the two monks continued on their journey.

Later that night the young monk, who had been visibly disturbed since the encounter with the woman, exclaimed to his mentor, “we’re monks – so are forbidden to touch women – how could you do so?!” To which the old monk replied, “I let her go hours ago – but you are still carrying the weight of her on your back!”

Similarly, the furnace operator was carrying around the weight of the former plant manager.  What he was doing, fundamentally, was being burdened by a weight that had been shed years ago.  He was giving away his power to this other person, who had moved on long ago.

When we talk about moving through change – from “current to future state” – so often we point to some variant of Lewin’s classic model:

First we are to unfreeze – to let go of something from the past.  Often, the focus is on letting go of something that has been perceived as good, something valuable, something that has worked well for us.  We are advised to acknowledge and even grieve the loss.

However, taking charge of change is also often about “letting go” of the negative – of our lingering grievances and resentments.  Holding on to old wounds – and blaming others who inflicted those wounds – disempowers us to move forward proactively and positively.  At some point we need to “stop admiring the problem” and focus on solutions!

This is a lesson I’ve learned – and had to relearn – many times in my professional and personal life.  This incident caused me to ask myself these questions, which might benefit you as well – try them out and send me an email to let me know:

 What would be to your advantage to let go of to move forward?

 Who in your current life or past might you be giving away your power to?

 What are you holding on to that’s preventing positive progress – reflect on potentially limiting beliefs, limiting behaviors, limiting habits, outmoded ways of thinking or acting or relating to others that are no longer serving you – or those you were meant to serve?

Let go to get going!

Positive Feedback is the Biggest Source of Motivation

Here’s a question for you:
Do you NEED positive feedback to do a great job at work?  

Like you need oxygen and water?

Now, let me ask the question in a slightly different way:
When you RECEIVE positive feedback, does it make a difference?

Inspire you to do even better, make you feel valued?

In my experience, about a quarter of us really need atta-boys/girls – it provides us sustenance we crave.  However, when I ask the second question to clients, virtually every hand gets raised – when we receive acknowledgment, it makes a powerful impact.

Yet, what percentage of people report receiving ANY positive feedback in the workplace?  Less than 5% of us receive a pat-on-the-back in any given week.

If it makes such a difference, why don’t we do it, frequently and consistently?  Here are the top reasons I hear:

•  “Good work is a job requirement – I only recognize outstanding performance.”

•  “Top performers are self-motivated – they know they are doing a great job.”

•  “We’re business people – we don’t do that touchy-feely stuff.”


Positive feedback is the biggest source of motivation that leaders at all levels are leaving on the table.  It’s easy.  It’s free.  It makes both the giver and receiver feel great.  Especially in times of significant change and challenge, recognizing people for their contributions helps keep people engaged, committed, and shows you care.

Here are some simple hints for giving thanks that will be appreciated by almost everyone you lead:

•  When you see it, say it!  Don’t let good work go unnoticed.  What gets noticed, gets repeated.

•  Make it specific!  Saying “great job,” while nice to hear, can sound empty.  Saying “I really appreciated the great job you did putting together the communications plan for our new IT upgrade – it was very inclusive, thorough, and creative – thank you” lets the receiver know you know that what they are doing matters.

•  Make it personal!  Saying “I really appreciate….” or “it really helps me out when you…” reinforces your relationship, teamwork and partnership.  People connect with people first, and organizational engagement follows.

Change Intelligent leaders also customize their expressions of gratitude to the preferences of others.  People with different styles resonate best with different ways of saying “thanks”:

•  Coaches (high Heart style) value feedback that focuses on how they have helped and involved others through a change process; Drivers (high Head and Hands style) like to hear how they have pushed the change over the finish line and achieved daunting objectives.

•  Champions (high Heart and Head style) thrive on public applause and demonstrative praise; Executers (high Hands style) appreciate quieter forms of recognition focusing on their competent, planful, and structured approach.

•  Visionaries (high Head style) enjoy feedback that acknowledges their inventive inspiration towards exciting new horizons; Facilitators (high Hands and Heart style) like to know that they have done a good job supporting people through difficulties on the ground level and fostering team success.

Try to make a practice of sharing positive feedback with your team is one of the most leveraging behaviors you can develop to keep people engaged and motivated during the often long and taxing journey of change.

Consultant of the Year Award

I was thrilled and honored to be presented with the Change Management Consultant of the Year Award last year, during the first-ever Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) Midwest Chapter Conference.  In the words of John Barker, Chapter President (pictured with me):

This award honors the change management practitioner who has contributed to the success of the organizations he/she serves and has improved upon the standard practices in change management and shown innovation.

The award is given to an individual that is recognized as having impact as a thoughtful leader who has proven outstanding services and accomplishments in the field of change management. And an individual who has demonstrated successful innovative contributions that drive performance in this industry.

Three aspects of the award are especially meaningful to me.  First, I was nominated by a client.  The client recognized me for both the work we have done together helping his organization execute mission-critical change and build change leadership capacity, as well as for the work I have done to create the CQ System for Developing Change Intelligence.

Second, the award was bestowed by fellow change management peers who launched the ACMP-Midwest Chapter with me.  I served on the Chapter Board for two years and transitioned out this summer.  Each Board member has made contributions to our field and serves their organizations and clients with excellence – as well as the change management community as a whole.  It is very moving to be acknowledged by such talented and committed colleagues.

Third, the award represents a great deal beyond my individual recognition.  If you don’t know about the ACMP – you should!  Its mission is to advance the discipline of change management.  I learned of the ACMP only three years ago, after over 20+ years in the business and participating in many professional associations, and immediately felt like “I found my tribe”!

The organization is only four years old, and already has a global presence with members, chapters, and events around the world.  In its short existence, the ACMP has accomplished the following important and ambitious goals:

Becoming a member gives you access to a global network of change management professionals, postings about new change management opportunities, and resources such as on-demand webinars and downloadable content for your continued professional development.  Please consider joining me in this pioneering and dynamic organization!