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Bad managers make a demonstrable dent in the bottom line. It's hard to understand why they're allowed to continue.

bad bosses and change management


There are some sobering statistics out there regarding people who leave their jobs: Studies suggest that more than 50% of people who leave their jobs do it mostly to get away from their boss? Sadly, I totally get it.

I’ve worked for some of the scariest and worst managers. Ever. Take Walter (yes, I’ve changed the names although frankly none of them deserve the courtesy). Walter was so busy kissing up to those above him that he barely knew what was going on in his group. And, in fact, he had us write our own performance reviews. Except we could never be ‘exceeds expectations’ because he didn’t want to be seen as an ‘easy marker’. That seemed to work for him – he got promoted quite steadily and reached the highest level in a matter of years. I didn’t even care when he got promoted because that meant I no longer had to work for him.

Then there was Sean. Sean didn’t like women with opinions, and back then I hadn’t learned to hide them yet. I was doing a great job though, so he couldn’t actually give me a bad performance rating. But he considered me to have no potential, given my propensity to have an opinion and voice it. Oh, and he was an armchair psychologist who also decided, and announced to anyone who would listen, that the only reason I even gave my opinion was because I needed attention. I won’t bore you with the abuse I suffered under Sean (who I hauled down to HR at one point because his mental abuse was so bad.) It would take more than just a few paragraphs.

And lastly (oh, there’s more but I won’t subject you to all of it in one sitting) there was Penelope. Penelope and I were peers and friends at one point, although we were in different departments. When she got promoted and was able to hire staff, she asked me to come and take a position in her organization. It was a great offer, and I said yes. And then she proceeded to use every private and peer conversation we ever had against me. She systematically destroyed my confidence by using the very personal exchanges we had had in the past as evidence that I was not a) a good performer and b) worthy of good work assignments. It was awful and at the first opportunity, I ran screaming from the department. Well, not literally screaming, but you get the picture.

And lest you think these are all anomalies or that this is about me, not them, I will remind you that 1 in 2 people leave their jobs today to get away from their boss. 1 in 2. 50%. Again Wow.

Well, folks. You might be appalled by what you read above. You might even recognize some of the behaviors (from observing others, of course). The truth is, as leaders in organizations you brought it on yourselves.

You brought it on yourselves, or rather, you brought it on our employees because you are so enamored with ‘leadership’ that you have completely dismissed and frankly, dissed, management. We want our people to be leaders. We send people to ‘leadership development’ courses. We focus performance reviews on whether or not they are showing leadership. And we don’t really seem to care (even if we do) about whether or not they can manage their way out of a paper bag.

We love individuals who show ‘leadership’, but we don’t pay attention to those who show a talent for managing others. We say things like ‘are you a leader or are you a manager’, insinuating that leading is ‘good’ and managing is ‘bad’. We take an individual contributor who excels and give them people to manage. And then let them figure it out for themselves. OK, maybe in sophisticated sales organizations there is more emphasis on being a good people manager. But what about the other parts of your organization? Even in HR I rarely see new managers being sent to manager training, or even encouraged to develop in that area.

Because today it is just a ticket punch. Being a manager is something you do on the way to being a ‘leader’.

And the fallout is horrifying. I’ve said it before – 50% of people who leave a job do so to get away from their boss. Most of whom will suffer from some form of PTSD from the situation for the rest of their career.

As I work with organizations today in various capacities I can tell you that these situations still exist. And perhaps are even getting worse. Now I hear, ‘I don’t have time’ a lot when it comes to developing others or even developing their own skills. Well, folks, as we used to say in the Quality world – if you have time to do it over then you had time to do it right in the first place. Instead of investing in ‘leadership training’, organizations need to take a hard look at how they are developing their people managers and invest in that instead. And they need to start holding people managers accountable for their actions – and compensate them on how well they manage people, not on the amount of work they do. And we should do those things, not because it is the right thing to do (even if it is) but because if you have great people managers, you have great employees and if you have both then you also have great profits. That may seem simplistic, but it is true.

When I left corporate America I was a shadow of my former self. I had learned to ‘shut up’ and keep my opinions to myself. I had learned to just allow disasters to happen, even though I could see them happening. Because I couldn’t stand the displeasure when I pointed things out, and the resentment when I turned out to be right. I had learned that I couldn’t trust anyone with my truth. And yes, it took its toll on me – but it also cost the company lots of money in lost revenue and productivity.

And if you are saying to yourself that I should have spoken up, then clearly you have never been slapped down time and time again for doing so. It took me a long time to get my voice back and to feel confident in speaking my truth. And honestly, sometimes when I come face to face with someone who reminds me of one of my former bosses, it takes a huge effort for the words not to stick in my throat.

Multiply that by all of your employees who are working for a bad manager and consider how much bad management is costing you in lost productivity and lost creativity; how much it costs your employees in lost confidence, sleep, job satisfaction and well-being; and finally, how much it costs your reputation when employees leave their bad managers and tell others about it.

Wednesday, 09 August 2017 00:00

There's Work Here for My Grandchildren

No matter how many years I work in change management one thing never ceases to amaze me.  How the simplest and easiest things to avoid are not, and they are the things that trip us up.

I’m a member of an association that is an international group with a corporate/chapter structure.  This association has gone to standard processes in one area of the organization.  In addition, two of the core values of the corporate entity are flexibility and collaboration with their chapters.  Both are great core values.  Unfortunately the way they have manifested themselves in the endeavor to standardize a process is this:  The ‘standards’ aren’t written down, the head of the group just talks about them. (Often in the abstract, which is in and of itself a problem but I won’t go into that here.)  And when someone does something not to the standard instead of reiterating the standard dispassionately, they want to enter into a conversation to re-convince the individual of the need for standards.  And maybe the standards stay the same, but it is hard to tell because there isn’t anything written that anyone can refer to.  To some individuals working with the standards they seem to change, which is confusing.

You can see where this is going.

There are so many things wrong with their approach; it is hard to know where to begin.  So I’ll just say this:  Clarity, Clarity, Clarity.

As we know, when making a change it is important to be crystal clear about the change and what it is, and what it’s not.  People do better when they know the rules.  And if the rules or standards appear to be changing pretty regularly, it is hard to abide by them.  That’s why when you change procedures or processes it is important to put them in writing in a way that anyone can pick them up and understand them.  We know this, but it still isn’t being done. (Now you know why I say there is work here for my grandchildren.)

One of the frustrations of this corporate group is that they don’t know why they have to have the same conversation over and over again.  To this I say, to you it is the same conversation, but to others it may not be.  And if, in fact, you are having the same conversation over and over again, maybe it is because the other person isn’t clear about the rules.

When I mentioned to this corporate entity that the standards need to be clear, they told me it wasn’t ‘black and white’.  Problem number 2: If you are going to have standardization, the rules that govern it need to be black and white.  This is the rule, this is what the rule covers, this is what the rule doesn’t cover.  Otherwise it isn’t a standard.  This seemed to go against their core values of collaboration and flexibility but it really doesn’t.

Standards are by their very nature not flexible, but they are often surrounded by ways to be flexible.  You can have a standard that says ‘you must do a, b and c’ but then when it comes to ‘d’ there are options.  It is still a standard.  And these standards were created in collaboration with representatives from many of the chapters, so there is collaboration.  But once they are set, if you really want to standardize, you can’t continue to act as if there is flexibility and collaboration regarding the standards – or you will just confuse people, which is exactly what is happening.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.  The lesson I want to share with you from what I describe is this:  when you are leading change it is important that you have clarity on several levels.

Clarity Level 1:  Make sure you, yourself are clear about the change – what is changing and what isn’t.  Make sure you understand the change from the perspective of the changee – the person doing the changing.  If you are the change agent, it is incumbent upon you to understand other perspectives.

Clarity Level 2:  Have repeatable explanations of the change that ensure it is clear to everyone.  By repeatable I mean written.  If there are standards or new rules, make sure the rules are written in a way that everyone can understand.  Do a test – ask people not involved in any way to read the standards and tell you what it means to them.

Clarity Level 3:  Invite and welcome questions about things that aren’t clear – no matter when they occur  - in a month, in two months, in two years. Knowing what others are clear about – and not - is a gift.  Inviting questions so you can further clarify is a great way to continue the collaboration.  Maybe the standard needs to change, maybe the standard needs to be clearer, maybe there is a need for another standard, maybe everything is completely clear.  Whichever it happens to be, clarity should always be your goal – but not clarity to you – clarity to others.

Keep in mind that a change may be simple and straightforward to you, but change and how it is viewed is in the eyes of the recipient of that change, not you. 

Want to talk more about change in your organization?  Call me any time – especially today because I’m snowed in!



I think this cartoon is supposed to illustrate the many ways in which people will resist a proposed change in the workplace.  It does - and it definitely covers most of the most common resistance responses you can expect to any change initiative.

However, what struck me most about this particular illustration is that while one person is standing there doing the talking, 11 other people are having private thoughts.  Not all of them are negative, and not all of them will ever be shared with the person leading the change or even with the other people around the table.  And this is where change can run into serious problems.

Most of us know that feedback is important in the change process.  But as I've mentioned before, we shouldn't be too quick to dismiss change resistors, because they very often have something to teach us.  Maybe they do have a better idea; maybe they have an important piece of information that should be taken into consideration when mapping out and implementing a change strategy; maybe they're just an indicator that the organizational culture and communications need a lot of work before any change can really take root and be successful.  But as long as only one person is communicating while 11 others are silent, no amount of expert change management will make a change initiative successful.

change management communication

Wednesday, 17 May 2017 00:00

Change Management Mindmap


Because sometimes you need a little visual stimulation

I've had this image on my desktop for some time now, and can't remember exactly where it came from.  But I know I like to look at visuals like this when I'm feeling a little 'linear' in my thinking.  When you've been poring over a lot of text and spreadsheets, mindmaps can be a good way to get your brain thinking in different directions, and suddenly you feel a lot smarter than you were 15 minutes ago.

This particular mindmap is titled 'Behavior Change Program', and that's really what change management is all about:  Helping the organization, and the people within it, to change their behaviors, both on a corporate level and an individual level.

The next time you're feeling stuck in the process of change, try a mindmap - you never know where it could take you.

If you're at all interested in change management, you're probably familiar with the problem:  It can sometimes take an awful lot of reading time to get to a single key insight.

That's why I love this infographic, which I found here.  It does a great job of identifying the key components of successful change management, and what happens when one of those components fail.  It's not only a good summary for change management practitioners - it's an excellent visual to use when presenting change management strategy to non-change-management types.  And it reminds me of a Vegas slot machine:  In order to get to the jackpot, you have to get all 6 components to line up at once.

This one is definitely going into my toolbox.

change management infographic

Whether you're a senior leadership team member, a project manager or an HR leader who's been tasked with leading or driving change in the organization, you know the importance of effective change management.  It's not just about the 'touchy-feely' part of change - it's about making sure that the change delivers the ROI you need, without costing you productivity or key employees.

But how do you convince the rest of the organization that you need to invest in change management?

In this one-hour lunch'n'learn webinar, you'll learn effective tactics that will help you make the business case for change management - by quantifying the cost of going without.

Hosted by Beth Banks Cohn

Wednesday April 30, 2014
12-1pm, EST.

Just click the link below to register.  It only takes about 15 seconds, and we won't ask you for a whole lot of information.  After you register, you'll get an email containing information about how to join the webinar.

We hope you can join us!



Communication can be the single biggest driver in your career. Are you doing it right?

semaphore communication for your career


Last month we talked about how having great communication skills can be a huge career asset, no matter what stage you're at in your career.  

But 'good communication skills' doesn't mean that you're good at spelling or that you don't faint when you're asked to give a presentation in front of a roomful of people.  (Though I will say that it's rare to see a senior executive who has atrocious spelling and grammar skills or who can't do at least a pretty good job of presenting material to an audience.  You don't have to be Ernest Hemingway or Russell Peters - but you do have to be confident and competent.)

In a workplace environment, good communication skills are really about being able to convey and receive the information/ideas/tone you want or need to in order to excel at your job.  Some of that involves good writing and presenting skills, but a lot of it involves being able to interact with co-workers and stakeholders on a one-to-one basis; participating productively in meetings with people from different departments or levels; and building up a reputation for positive interactions.

So how, exactly, do you do this?  Here are 6 crucial tactics to ensure you're not only a great communicator - but that you're also perceived as one.

1.  Know yourself (your strengths and opportunities for growth).  Chances are, like most people, you're better at some forms of communication than others.  Some people are great in meetings but terrible at email.  Use your strengths to your advantage (don't forgo important meetings, since they're a chance to shine), and manage your weaknesses (make an extra effort with email, or try alternate channels).

2.  Know how communication works in your corporate culture.  I've encountered companies where interoffice email is frowned upon ("If you need to speak to a colleague, try to do so in real time"); some companies see meetings as a waste of time; others want every step of every decision documented in triplicate.  Every workplace has its own communication culture, and you need to understand the one you're in if you hope to succeed.

3.  Learn from good and bad examples.  This is easy:  Pay attention to the good communicators around you, and don't hesitate to try to emulate them.  If you encounter a poor communicator, don't let them pull you down to their standard - use it as an opportunity to improve.

4.  Continuous improvement.  Communication skills aren't something you're born with or a 'gift' that only some people have - they're a skill, like any other, and can be improved over time.  In my 20s, I didn't understand why no one was bothering to really pay attention to my PowerPoint presentations, because I spent so much time on them.  Finally, a senior mentor took me aside and told me that I needed to stop writing novel-length documents and start using more concise bullet points.  It took a while, but eventually I was able to write in bullet points rather than paragraphs, and my presentations got a lot more popular - and much more effective.

5.  Keep the next level in mind.  Remember that old saying, "Dress for what you want to be, not for what you are"?  The idea was that even if you were a junior employee, dressing in suits would help people picture you in a more senior role.  The same is true for communication.  If you see that the people who are on the next levels up from you have mastered certain communication skills or media, make sure you're investing time in improving your skills in those areas.  It will make a huge difference the next time promotions are being considered and you're on the list with someone else.

6.  Be prepared.  All communication is more effective when you know your subject, know your audience, know what you want to say, and how you want to say it.  For day-to-day communication, this may mean simply making an extra effort to ensure you have pertinent facts at your disposal or that your files are in order.  For big opportunities like presentations, it means rehearsing the night (or even the week) before. Taking 10 minutes before an important meeting to make sure your laptop is well-organized with the correct documents or list the 5 agenda items you need to accomplish will not only make you look like a rockstar, you'll stand a better chance of emerging from the meeting with the outcomes you need.

The more you know yourself, your organization, and your communication advantages, the more you'll be able to use this super-skill to your advantage.  It may offer the single biggest boost to your career.


One of the biggest concerns that businesses - whether they're small, mid-sized or large organizations - have about change management is the cost.  These days, everyone's trying to innovate faster and more cost-effectively than ever. 

At the same time, we know that the right change management strategies can help businesses get to the ROI of their change much faster, and put more money on their bottom line.

How do you bridge the gap?

With ChangeStart(TM).

We meet with clients at the outset of their change initiative planning, assess their situation and needs and provide them with a high-level action plan which will help them get to the ROI of change more effectively.   At $2500, it gives businesses access to senior-level change expertise without committing a large portion of their budget to change management.

For more information, contact me or see the infosheet below.

ChangeStart infosheet


I know, just what you needed - another infographic about change management failure!

But this one caught my eye because it's both HR-specific and the result of interviews with actual senior HR leaders.  And while I don't always agree with the HR department, I do agree with the experts in this case about 'result-oriented psychological facilitation'.  As I've said before, you can be focused on the ROI of change and still have room to address the psychological effects of change on employees.  In fact, when you don't address the psychological effects, you'll quickly find that your change-related ROI goes straight out the window.

So I think this infographic is worth at least a skim.

change management in HR


Wednesday, 09 November 2016 00:00

12 reasons employees resist change [infographic]

I always find it interesting that the reasons for resistance to change are so well known (even people who aren't change management experts have a good intuitive understanding of the reasons for change resistance, based on their own life experience), and yet so often unaddressed in the workplace.  

So here's an infographic about the reasons for change resistance and some ideas for how to guide against resistance.  It's all about communication, leadership, employee engagement and, of course, taking the time to listen.

(infographic by Catherine Adenle at Catherine's Career Corner)

change management infographic

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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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