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In Part I of our series on the Employee Perspective on change, we talked about what to do when you find the company's values no longer align with yours as an individual employee.  In Part II, we discuss what happens when you're hired to 'transform' or 'change' an organization - but then discover that no one actually wants those transformations or changes.

Q:  I've been offered what looks like a terrific opportunity to make a real difference:  I'll be heading up a new department and spearheading some major changes.  But I haven't met with the executive team yet and I'm concerned that the company isn't quite as committed to these changes as they say they are.  How can I ensure I don't end up 'spearheading' a spectacular failure?


Ah, the age-old question.  You've just been offered your dream job:  You were recruited from your previous position with promises of a promotion, a great title, and the opportunity to make some exciting changes.  The people with whom you interviewed have told you that the organization is 'desperate for action' and you'll be given 'a free hand' to 'transform' the company.  It sounds fantastic.

But so far, you've only interviewed with the HR department and a handful of senior leaders, and the word on the street is that the executive team has been talking about making changes for years but have never managed to take decisive action.

Here's how to determine whether the position on offer is all it's cracked up to be - and whether you'll actually be in a position to successfully spearhead the changes they've told you they need:

  1. Listen for 'red flag' statements:  When you hear terms like 'newly-created role' and 'catalyst for change' during the recruiting and interviewing process, you can be fairly certain you're about to dive into uncharted territory.  This could be a great opportunity - or it could mean that not everyone in the organization is supportive of (or even knows about) this new role and its stated mandate.  It's a cue to probe deeper to find out if there's been a stated corporate mandate for specific change, whether it's been clearly articulated as part of a recent organization-wide business initiative, and who's been involved in creating this new role.
  2. Look for gaps between the job description and the organizational culture:  For example, if you're being hired as the Head of Digital Transformation with a mandate to help the company become 'more visionary', but the corporate website spends a lot of time talking about 'old-fashioned values' and the people you meet during the interview process crack jokes about how your fancy iPhone means you must be a hipster, you may be in for trouble.

    Again, these are cues to probe for more information.  Don't be afraid to ask, for example, how this 'Digital Transformation' role will align with the values stated on the website.  The response you get will tell you a lot about how the organization really sees this new role they've created and how committed they are to change.

    (I was once hired by a pharmaceutical company with a mandate to create 'new and innovative' approaches which could 'really drive change' in a computer training program.  When the first person I spoke to on my first day of work said, "We shouldn't waste our time on PCs - they're just a fad...", I knew I was in for a rough ride.)
  3. Ask if they've tried to establish this role before:  Have they tried to hire for this role in the past, but been either unable to do so or unable to keep the person (people?) they've hired?  This could be a good indication that the role isn't properly defined or isn't well-supported within the organization.
  4. Ask what success looks like - specifically:  If the role doesn't come with clearly defined goals ("Well, we're looking for you to tell us what we should be shooting for here..."), you'll likely find yourself at the mercy of competing priorities - and you'll never be able to get anything done.  What's more, you may have difficulty gaining consensus and support for your changes, because you won't be able to refer back to a central mandate.
  5. Ask about the budget and resourcing assigned to the role or project:  If the person interviewing you says "Oh, we haven't assigned any funding" or "Well, we're waiting for the person we hire to tell us how much money and staff we'll need", it's probably time to run the other way, because no one is taking the role or project seriously.
  6. Ask for examples of previous change initiatives - and their results:  If the organization can point to a recent 'transformation' in another area that went well, it's a good indication that the company copes well with change.  If all you hear are stories about how previous change initiatives haven't gone over well ("But I'm sure with you in this new role it'll all be different!"), you may want to rethink whether you're going to be set up for success.
  7. Go with your gut:  If you've been in the working world for a few years, and something about the opportunity just doesn't seem right to you, it may be that your subconscious is picking up on clues your conscious brain is missing.  

    In business, we're often told to ignore our 'feelings' and stick to the facts, but our gut reactions are our life experience talking - and that's worth something.  

    So step back, take some time to reflect on what you've been told about the role, and then see how you feel.

Don't get me wrong - sometimes you have to take big risks in order to achieve big things, and jumping into a whole new role with a big mandate could be a fantastic opportunity for you to make a big splash and take a big leap forward in your career.  I'm simply suggesting you take a calculated risk rather than a reckless one.



Published in News

Most of the time on this blog, we talk about change management from the perspective of the organization:  How to more effectively manage the various moving parts of change so that the organization sees the maximum return on their change efforts.

However, I was recently asked for my advice on change management from the perspective of an individual employee.  Whether they are in the midst of an official 'change initiative' or not, organizations are never static; they're always evolving and adapting to changing market conditions, competitive environments, or economic factors.  So in many ways, change is a constant from an employee perspective.

In Part I of our Employee Perspective on change, we discuss what happens when an employee finds the core values of an organization have changed.

Q:  When I joined the company, I found their core values aligned with my own.  However, lately I've noticed that just isn't true for me any longer.  I'm reluctant to make a big move at the moment, given the economy.  Is there a way I can stay with the company, or should I resign myself to finding a new job?


  1. First, look at the specifics of your situation.  Is it really true to say that your values and those of the organization don't align any more, or are there specific issues which are concerning you?

    For example, you may not appreciate that the company's stance on 'lifetime employment for all' has changed in the 15 years since you joined, but that's true for almost all organizations these days.  At the same time, the company's commitment to ethical working conditions and supporting community organizations (two values which are also important to you) are still intact.

    It's worthwhile to take a few minutes to clearly articulate - in writing! - where your values and those of the organization align, and where they diverge.  You may discover you're actually more aligned than you think.
  2. Do a level check with like-minded employees.  For example, if 'quality' was a highly-prized value when you first joined the company, but now seems to have gone by the wayside in pursuit of shareholder value, find out how other employees at your level are coping with the apparent disconnect.  

    You may find that some of your co-workers are continuing to work as though quality is still a highly important value, and that may give you the confidence to do the same.  On the other hand, you may find that they aren't experiencing pressure to forego quality, and that the difficulty is actually more to do with a specific manager in your department, not the whole organization.

    Remember, it's not unusual for a company to temporarily lose its way during a difficult time, but if enough employees continue to operate to high standards, the organization as a whole may find its way back over time.  Even individual employees have the power to make the difference in the organizational culture.
  3. Create an exit strategy.  You may find that, as you look at specifics and examine the company as a whole, there are some values on which you simply can't compromise, such as ethical business practices.  If you find those values have changed, you may still need to consider leaving.  But don't resign in a huff, or spend a lot of time griping to co-workers about 'the good old days'.  Make a plan, and give yourself the time and space you need to find the right kind of work in a company that aligns with your values.

    You'll feel better knowing you have a plan and that your employment will have an end date - even if it is 6-12 months in the future.


NEXT:  The Employee Perspective, Part II:  This isn't the job I was hired for

Published in News

It's true that sometimes a change initiative means losing employees due to restructuring or reallocation of responsibilities.  However, the last thing you want is to lose your top performers as a result of change - after all, it's your A-list employees who are likely to be the most resilient, adaptable, and ultimately deliver the most benefits of a change initiative.

But even A-listers can get spooked by a poorly-communicated or -executed change - and when one of them stops ignoring those calls from recruiters and starts thinking about pastures new, you can end up with an exodus on your hands.

Not worried?  Here are 5 ways to virtually ensure your top talent won't stick around to help you reap the benefits of your change initiative:

  1. Keep them guessing about the effects of change on their career.  The worst thing you can do to your top performers is to leave them in the dark about what's coming down the pipe for them.  Your best employees are also your most ambitious, and if you leave them wondering how their career path is going to be affected by the change, they're almost guaranteed to look around for opportunities which will give them more certainty about their upward trajectory.
  2. Withold information.  One of the reasons you like your top performers so much is that they work hard to earn - and keep - your respect.  However, they also want to be respected in return.  When you aren't forthright about the reasons for, strategy behind, and tactics involved in a change initiative, they can interpret it as a sign of disrespect - and they start to think about finding an organization where their contribution will be more appreciated.
  3. Leave them out of the process.  Your best employees are also your most engaged employees - which means that if you don't allow them to have input into the change process from the beginning, you risk alienating them and making them a prime target for your competitors.  Ensuring top talent has a voice at the table will keep them engaged and positive about changes.
  4. Have third parties tell them how to do their jobs.  There's nothing more frustrating for A-listers - who take pride in doing a great job - than to have third-party 'consultants' arrive and start telling them they've been doing it all wrong.  Or worse, for those consultants to start imposing cumbersome process-monitoring bureaucracy which employees know is ridiculous.  Yes, the change may require people to do their jobs differently going forward, but it's better if you can work with top performers to find the most productive methods, rather than saddling them with a whole bunch of new rules and checklists.
  5. Be critical and dismissive.  Your best employees know the company isn't perfect, and most of them will understand that change is necessary (especially if you take the time to explain it to them).  However, spending too much time that everything they've been doing up to now has been wrong, or a waste of time, or just plain stupid, is not the way to get them on-side.  After all, they've probably spent some late nights working on all that 'stupid' stuff.  So minimize the criticism of the past and focus on the future benefits of the change.

The bottom line?  Treating your top performers with the respect and open communication they deserve will help ensure they're still around to help you realize the value of your change initiative.

Published in News

A year or two ago I was working with a senior executive team on a change initiative that would affect about 200 employees in the IT services department of a pharmaceutical company.  When we got to the portion of the strategy that dealt with how we'd communicate the changes to the team, I met resistance.

"Why do we have to have this 'kickoff' all-team meeting at the beginning and an intranet site for daily updates on the changes?" one of the executives said.  "I just don't understand why we have to waste all this time and money on explaining everything to the junior employees.  They don't understand the overall business, and they won't understand why we're making these changes.  If they want to keep their jobs, they'll just do what we're telling them!"

open communication for change management

Unfortunately, this isn't an uncommon reaction.  Many senior execs seem to think that (a) junior and mid-level staffers are too dumb to understand 'the big picture' and (b) people who are collecting paycheques should simply do what they're told, and not suck up all kinds of resources by demanding explanations.

The truth is that emplyees often have a better grasp of the big picture than might at first be evident - it's hard to be a successful, long-term employee in any job without having at least some understanding of the organization as a whole.  What's more, the internet age means that the average employee has more access, to more information, about the organization for which s/he works than ever before.  Employees are more familiar with terms like 'shareholder value' and 'market capitalization' and 'competitive advantage' than they were even 25 years ago.  All of which means they're probably much better equipped to understand business decisions - even those made 'at the highest levels'.

What's more, study after study shows that the best employees - the most productive, valuable ones - are those who are actively engaged in their jobs and their organizations.  In other words, the best employees are definitely not the kind of people who want to just 'do what they're told' - they want to understand their role within the organization, how they're contributing to the organization's success, and that their efforts are making a difference.

If organizations want to keep these high-value employees through a change - and keep them productive - they must communicate the reasons for change, the rationale for decisions, the process of change, and how everything works together to achieve the goal.  Does it take time and money to do this?  Yes.  Will everyone on the team understand every detail?  Probably not.  Will it, in the end, help you retain your top performers and navigate the change successfully?  Absolutely.


Published in News


When it comes to keeping great employees, compensation is still the most important motivator.

Recently I read a couple of articles on by Jeff Haden:  "8 Things Your Employees Need Most" and "4 Rewards That Are More Powerful Than Money".


In them, Jeff talksabout how employees are motivated by things like 'freedom', 'mission' and 'rewards' than they are about straightforward compensation packages (i.e. salary and benefits).  He even says "Employees don't want to work for a paycheck; they want to work with and for people."

It's true that not everyone is motivated by the same things, and everyone likes to feel respected and valued in their workplace.  But the reality is that day-to-day intangibles like being asked for input or being recognized for a job well done are short-term motivators that only go so far.  Over the longer term, as your employees look to achieve things in other areas of their lives - taking vacations, buying homes, having children - money starts to assume more importance.

If people really preferred 'people' over 'paycheck', they'd be doing volunteer work instead of spending time in productivity analysis meetings.

The internet is filled with opinions.  The facts are often held within organizations.

Most large organizations, especially ones with turnover and attrition challenges, conduct 'exit interviews'.  When employees leave, they meet wtih someone from HR and discuss their experiences with the organization and their reasons for leaving.

These exit interviews aren't anonymous, so employees - especially the A-list ones, who know better than to burn their bridges - are circumspect.  When they're asked about why they're leaving, they talk about neutral, inoffensive things like "I was offered a terrific opportunity to grow my skills" or "I've always wanted tow ork in a startup environment" or even "The new job means I don't have to spend as much time communting".

However, when you ask recently-departed employees why they really left, and do it anonymously, they paint a very different picture:  The majority say that they left because they wanted to make more money (or a larger compensation package).  But this information is never made public, because what company wants to admit that 90% of their people leave simply to make more money?

(Now, it's worth noting that the second most common reason that top performers leave a job is that they could no longer stand an overbearing or incompetent manager - but this is a distant second to compensation.)

I definitely agree that the intangibles - consistent feedback, rewards and recognition, employee engagement, asking for input and ideas - all contribute to a positive work environment, and a positive work environment promotes productivity, builds the employment brand, and can compensate for things like an inconvenient office location or a high-stress industry.  But in the long-term, below-average compensation will cost you your top performers.





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Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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