Change is thrilling! A Satellite Story

It is easy to be excited about space when you're working on a new mission. But most developments revolve around rather mundane day-to-day changes. How can you get your team engaged in new work, when it is so much easier to just settle into the status quo? Read this account about how the operational Landsat team tackled a challenge that one of its managers called a "death spiral."

Finally! The “How” of Preparing Staff for Change

We reject the story of "Change is hard." What feels hard is the lack of preparation and process that usually going into planning big changes. The team at the Rose Group, Int'l has developed a program that leverages well-documented personality profiles seen through the lens of Change. This allows organizations to better plan for strategic communciations that will resonate with its staff and leadership.

Check out more about Change Types in my recent blog for the C-Suite Network!

Resolving Conflicts Early Makes Change Easier

Resolving Conflicts Early Makes Change Easier

The old mantra of “change is hard” is frankly a story that gets told far too often. What makes it feel hard is the lack of preparation, process, and communication around planned changes. And, then of course, for the unplanned changes, there is often a feeling of always being behind the 8-ball, scrambling to stay ahead of the next piece of bad news.

Let’s update the story to: Change is challenging – and don’t we love to step up to a good challenge?

One of the reasons that change can feel challenging is that change highlights existing conflict: the intrapersonal issues that exist between perceived rivals, the staff that feels threatened by someone else’s achievements, the underperformers who fear new management, the rising star who might feel buried by reorganization.

Addressing conflict before a change event is ideal – of course, ideally, we’d manage conflict immediately all the time. But, it just doesn’t happen in reality.

I learned a major lesson regarding conflict from a dark time in an organization where I served on the Board of Directors.

Case Study: Not The Time for Silliness

I was on the Board of a small regional organization that looked to a national headquarters for overall direction and budget.

An ongoing passive/aggressive fight simmered between an elder director of the Board (we’ll call her Nancy) and a young staff member (we’ll call her Sarah). At first, it was the stereotypical conflict of “It’s always been done this way” versus the “Let’s try something new.”

As is often the case, it was easier to ignore it than to address it head on: too much drama and hassle and awkward conversations. But, of course, that’s all relative. In aggregate, the drama took up far too much of everyone’s time, and led to break room eye rolling and gossiping – morale and team killers.

In August of 2014, the news came down that the national office wanted to close the doors of our facility – forever.

This was a surprise to us, and it brought all of the operational and long-term, strategic work to a screeching halt as we went into emergency-response mode.

Change is challenging! We stepped up.

Through the hard work and fast-talking of a lot of people, we managed to delay closure, but it was a day-by-day concern. We never knew from where the next attack would come.

In the midst of this struggle for survival, the silly undercurrent between Nancy and Sarah developed into near distain for each other and was incredibly distracting to the overall mission. I say “silly,” because, when challenged with closure, this conflict wassilly. I don’t mean to trivialize the very real emotional situation for both of these ladies, but things got out of hand for no good reason.

When the typical end-of-year bonus and salary conversation took place for staff, most of the Board supported a generous package to both show our appreciation for Sarah’s response to the threat and a recognition of the additional work yet to come that was far beyond Sarah’s original role. Two Directors dissented, led by the inappropriate and derogatory comments of one in particular. Can you guess who it was? Yep. Nancy.

But it left me wondering – after I had calmed down – did Nancy even know she was being awful? I was betting she didn’t. I call this the Mad Hatter Rule – when someone is unaware of the true impact of her behavior. It happens a lot.

(I’ll talk more about how the Mad Hatter Rule became my life’s mantra in a later post.)

I was elected to Board President about a month after the contentious compensation meeting. The FIRST THING I did, literally within days, was to sit down with both of these women, individually.

For Nancy, I assumed the Mad Hatter rule to be true. I spoke to her about how much she was valued, and how much we all, including Sarah, appreciated her hard work and dedication to the organization. Which was absolutely true. This woman put her heart and soul into her work. This really sat her back on her heels. She found herself on the receiving end of a compliment, which led to her agree that Sarah was a valuable asset to the team, after all.

For Sarah, I loved her energy and ideas, and even with her inexperience, she was clever and hardworking and ready to fight this threat. I wanted to take the conflict with Nancy off her plate, so that she could concentrate on what she had to do to help save the organization. She, in turn, felt like someone had her back and valued her perspective.

It literally took two lunch dates to sort out the whole thing. And if you take out eating and casual conversation, it was probably two, 15-minute sessions.

The Lesson:

While conflict is something that is always present, to one degree or other, it is exacerbated by change: bickering can turn into an all-out war, mild dislike can turn to aggressive action.

I often equate chronic stress to rubbing two wires together. If you rub them together for too long, the insulation wears out, and every touch creates a spark. With conflict thrown into the mix, it’s like throwing that spark into gasoline fumes.

Imagine how much anxiety and frustration could have been avoided if only the conflict had been dealt with much earlier. Imagine how much more energy we could have spent addressing the issue at hand, instead of resisting the urge to crawl across the Board Room table and shake sense into them.

It’s always best to take care of conflict sooner rather than later. Problems are simpler, there are fewer emotional wounds, it is easier to save face.

Leaders will address conflict differently, but whatever your style, don’t wait until you’re also trying to manage a big change to address the conflict in your teams.


Originally posted at:

Difficult Changes Afoot? Involve Your Team for Better Outcomes.

Difficult Changes Afoot? Involve Your Team for Better Outcomes.

We already know that a killer team is vital to achieve the results and disruption that you want. They are your clever people – the ones you fight to keep, the ones you depend on.

When times get rough, I’ve seen leadership go behind closed doors and make “tough decisions” regarding staffing, solutions, new directions without their team’s input.

Yes, that executive team has to make the decisions. But are they the best decisions? Are they considering all the options? Do they understand the facts on the ground (and not just on the spreadsheet)?

It is informative to share one of the most egregious examples I’ve seen of excluding the team from hard decision-making.

Case Study

An organization conducted a nationwide search and hired a new President. This new President had an agenda – he wanted to start the organization growing in a new direction. But, that meant that some other projects had to get cut – or that was what the executive team decided. Only so much funding to go around, after all.

The new President ended up firing around 40 people and canceling entire projects to make more money available for his new work.

This caused mass confusion in the other projects, because the people and projects that were cut were not poor performers – it was the opposite – one of the projects won a nationwide award just days after the announcement of its impending suspension.

The prevailing hallway conversation consisted of “if they cut those high-performing people, am I next?” And “if they cut that award-winning project, is my project safe?”

Instead of making immediate progress on his new ideas (which were actually very good), he got resistance and resentment. All which could have been avoided. Now, years later, he has still not gained the trust of the wider organization.

An alternative approach

First, the basic assumption that there is only so much money to go around is simply…


And I wonder if they even realized that they were making that assumption.

If those executives would have approached the teams in jeopardy and said – “Here’s our current thinking. Convince us why we’re wrong. What could we do differently to keep doing your great work?“

Those teams would have come up with innovative and creative solutions. They may not have worked in the end, but the conversation would have broadened significantly, and an alternate solution may have been discovered.

The decision to keep the teams out of the loop created a tension and distrust immediately across the organization that was simply unnecessary.

Barriers to involving teams

As in all things business, it’s the humans that make the difference, for good or ill. And, while your teams can help solve problems, it’s not an easy approach (but, what good leadership technique is easy, really?!).

The biggest barrier to involving teams is the anxiety that will be stirred by the impending changes. Particularly with a new executive, a teams can’t trust that their head will not get chopped off if they stick their neck out. But, the rest of the leadership team was the same, so with proper communication, and the right ‘we’re all in this together’ mindset, productive conversations are possible. Even vital.

 The harder the conversation, the sooner you should have it, not later.

The other major barrier is confidentiality. There are some cases where you simply can’t have a lot of people knowing what is going on. However, radical transparency is the trend these days, and even if you can’t be completely public, there are still individuals embedded within the teams that you could bring in to contribute to the conversations.

 The Big Win of Team Involvement in Change Decisions

As an organization moves through the change transition, it is up to the leadership to determine if amazing new progress is achieved, or if the organization tanks into disarray and distrust.

The good news is that if you guide your organization well, your team will be stronger, more engaged, more committed, and be your biggest advocate.

In the case above, even if the exact same projects had been canceled in the end, the process would have been transparent, the rest of the teams would have understood the decision-making process, and the President could have made a lot more progress on the work that he wanted to achieve.

Pragmatic Take-Home Tools.

  • ·      Document your assumptions.
  • ·      Be as transparent as possible as to what is happening, even if everyone can’t be involved.
  • ·      Provide an environment where your team feels that they can be honest and openly contribute new ideas.
  • ·      Involve your team in difficult decisions.

In the end, you want your organization to come through difficult changes intact. You want to keep your best people, improve productivity, increase engagement, create more impressive results.

Difficult changes can really bring down an organization when led poorly. In fact most change fails during implementation.

Be the exception.

Packed House at 1M Cups

1 Million Cups in Sioux Falls

When I get in front of people, I really light up the room with my passion andexcitement. Someone told me recently that it’s hard not to get “bowled over” when people meet me for the first time.

I was delighted to share my passion with the 1 Million Cups community in Sioux Falls. An entrepreneurial crowd, they are always excited to learn more about what other creators are up to, how they did it, and what challenges they have overcome.

It was a big turnout – at least 4 rows of folks standing in the back!

I was pleased to be able to involve my partner, Meg Manke, in the Q&A, as we come from different specialties – she from HR and leadership and I from project management and leadership. We are both ultra-professional, yet down-to-earth, which is a combination that serves us both well when we work apart, and what makes us unstoppable when we work together. And, we have a lot of fun!

Check out this FB Live Video of our morning sesh. The poor FB liver from Zeal didn’t know what to do about me creeping into the audience, so apologies for the dark video. Skip ahead to 9:45 to get to our portion of the event.

Thank you for the invitation, 1 Million Cups Sioux Falls, to Zeal for the technical support, and Prairie Berry East Bank for the venue.

Big Change & Your Team

Big Change: Getting it right for your team.

Your eyes sparkle. Your smile widens. It is Thrilling. Daring.

It’s what I call the *zing* of excitement and energy we get with a new idea – the thing that keeps leaders coming back for more over and over again. It could be anything: a new offering, a proactive approach to a new regulation, a reorg for increased efficacy, a new database schema (takes all kinds, ya know?).

You start taking bold strides forward, and you look around at your team, and find them in two distinct places:

a. Next to you giving you a high five

b. Behind you somewhere trying not to look ill

There is really not much in between when it comes to people’s reaction to change. They are either ready for it, or they aren’t.

Change can lead to queasy stomachs, long stares from restless nights, shakes from the overly espresso’ed after a night of too much self-medication. And that’s with the people that are ready for the change! It can also cause some to dig their heels in to stay where they are for all they’re worth.

As a leader, do you just keep striding forward and figure you’ll lose some people?

What if they are your best people?

What if they are your most thoughtful people?

Leaders who like to live at the edge of that creative tension sometimes struggle to really get what the problem is for these heel-digger-inners. And I’m here to tell you – the problem just might be you.

As the leader, it is your responsibility to bring your people with you through a big change. What you know to be true is that you can’t create, grow, or sustain anything without your team.

There is a lot of theory around how people deal with change, but I like to boil it down to three practical ideas.

  1. Share your vision. As early as possible. As often as possible. As passionately as possible. And make sure you focus on WHY IT IS AMAZING. They have to see that the awkwardness they are struggling through is worthwhile.

Most people’s brains will fight to stay with what’s familiar. It’s why we date people like our dads, why we constantly go back to the same bad habits, why we never move to a new place. And we do them even when those things don’t make sense.

  1. Figure out where your people are based on behavior (not just what they tell you).

Some people are easy to sort out. The woman who suddenly needs time away from work – approved or otherwise. The guy who starts picking fights over labeling in the refrigerator.

But, this can be tricky, because some behaviors can be interpreted both as moving forward or staying behind. For instance, you’ve got a director in Ops who’s working so intensely that he just can’t make the meeting today. Is he racing ahead with the change, or staying busy enough to not deal with it? Denial is always a big part of resistance.

  1. Leverage the jackrabbits. Your staff who are moving ahead with you can help your cause. Have them reemphasize the WHY from their own perspective, as it relates to those in other parts of the organization. In big organizations, it can be hard for the boots-on-the-ground staff to relate to the excitement of a leader who they rarely see (and only then from a distance), and who might have unclear motivations.

As social creatures, the stats tell us that if we can get 30% of your organization moving toward your new big vision, then the rest will come along. But if you’re out front on your own, you’ll struggle.


As a leader that is energized by change, you have to make sure that your people are coming with you. It’s not rocket science, but it does take a plan and some strategy to get it right.

If you don’t get it right, then you’ll likely stagnate, lose your best people (they have options, after all), break down the sense of team, damage staff engagement, and, likely, negatively affect your clients.


There is so much more to share around how you can take that tension of a big change and turn it into excitement, creativity, and high-performing teams…

Until next time.

Epic Teams

Creating Your High-Performing Team

Over my two-plus decades of working with industry, academia, and government, I have seen poor leadership destroy teams, and I have worked with dream teams. Here are my 6 key approaches to ensure that your team has the support and leadership they need to be the best.

6. Enjoy the humans and the work. I hated putting this one last so much that I moved it to the top, because it is so important. You’ve got to actually like what you’re doing and the people that do that type of work. As a scientist that was working within an engineering organization, I was definitely a foreigner. I couldn’t speak their language at first, and, frankly, they didn’t see the value that I added to the project. But I hung in there and just wore down their distain with unabashed enjoyment and loyalty to the team. It took about a year for the last holdout to appreciate my contributions to the project, and that was finally when I took an annoying issue off his plate and handled it.

Love the mission, love the people.

1. Get organized. Ill-defined roles and responsibilities are disaster for a team. It results in duplication of work (which good staff absolutely hate – it’s a waste of their time!), or something not getting done (which stakeholders hate). If you don’t have this sorted, get it straightened out immediately.

2. The right mix. A reliable reporting structure provides peace-of-mind to leadership and prevents unnecessary interruption of staff’s time for updates or status. Do not take away the time that your team has to focus on getting the work done. For a large team, I like a mixture of quick in-person check-ins with key team leaders, milestone meetings for key project work, and big-picture meetings a few times a year. Figure out what works for you and your team. On the flip side – don’t overburden with meetings and reports – they have to have time to get the work done.

3. Consistancy. Nothing derails a team more than constant change. It’s not that you can’t alter the course, or modify approaches. In fact, some companies in tech have to be nimble all the time. But, that very flexibility is a constant. If leadership decided that they were going take on a 2-year development model instead of their normal 6-week sprint, the team would lose their minds. Manage your changes well and thoughtfully. You’ll lose your team if you don’t.

4. Collaborate. You have a team of experts at your fingertips. Use their knowledge and creativity to help solve thorny problems or brainstorm next steps. Take their input and apply it to your vision. The organization benefits, the team members know that you value them, and they have some skin in the game regarding strategic direction. A word of warning – I have seen this approach backfire when leadership dismisses their team’s input. If you don’t take on their recommendations, be sure to explain why.

5. Communicate. Never surprise anyone if you can help it (as in bad surprise). The easiest (and quickest!) way to break trust is to not tell your team what is going on. And, it takes about a million times longer to fix a bad surprise than it does to just tell someone the news in the first place, even if they won’t like it (there’s that resistance to awkward conversations, again – see January’s blog).

Your team should be the first ones to know what something big is happening in the organization. They should never be surprised by a colleague or competitor. When the hallway conversations happen, you want them to be able to say – “Yes, we’ve already discussed that on our team.”

If you want a high-performing team, treat them well, keep them informed, stay out of their way, and leverage their collective energy and cleverness when you need it. They’ll love you right back. And prove it with productivity and performance over and over again.

Awkward Conversations 101

Awkward Conversations 101

Mike and Steve are always having side conversations in meetings (a personal pet peeve). Suzie refuses to answer Renae’s request for information – all the time. Darin can’t seem to pick up on how to dress for the meeting with the investment board.

Great leaders value their team, but I can’t tell you how many clients that I have worked with who are so stressed out by awkward conversations that they would rather take a pass on a promotion than deal with it.

Here are some basics to get you started.

Overarching Precept #1: People are not jerks. Most people don’t set out to do things intentionally that someone is going to want to yell at them about. It is more likely a misunderstanding, an interpretation issue, or perhaps some of the facts are missing.

Overarching Precept #2: Assume the best. If there are two ways to interpret a situation, then take the positive angle. If someone is late every day, assume that they have a good reason until otherwise proven.

Avoid the problem: clarify expectations/rules. You can’t expect people to follow the rules if they don’t know them. Some rules might be implicit – like get to work on time. Other rules, like how volatile a contentious meeting might go, are typically modeled or moderated by the leader in the room. This is where being consistent can avoid problems.

Act immediately. Don’t assume that an issue will “work itself out.” Or that it’s “not that big of a deal.” If it is a trifling matter, then dealing with it will take no time at all. Much better to nip it in the bud than to spend hours (weeks!) resolving something that’s blown up into something significant.

Be consistent. Address issues immediately, all the time. If your team knows that you are going to have their back when it comes to conflict, then they will be more likely to bring up things early. In addition, you model the range of acceptable behavior in the workplace. Be consistent with how you deal with clients, customers, colleagues, and management so that your team knows what is expected. You set the tone.

Communicate. Trust is a big theme around leadership these days. If your team trusts you, they are more likely to bring up issues before they become obnoxious. Open communication tells your team that you value them, and it also gives them a chance to provide ideas for solutions or new approaches. This back and forth allows for conflicts or concerns to be aired very early on, so they can be sorted much more easily.

Avoid dramatic confrontations. If someone brings an issue to your attention, respond with the long-view in mind. Reacting with anger or frustration will only mean that no one will ever bring you anything again. It helps to think of an conflict as a logic puzzle or research project – it takes the emotion out of it. Find out what’s going on, all the details from this person’s perspective. You might need a bit of time to process what’s to be done, or perhaps you need to bring in others involved.

Remember, it’s not about you – it’s about moving the team forward in a proactive and productive manner. And if you take a new role and step into a mess, then it’ll take you some time to sort it out.

It might seem obvious, but teams are made up of people – and all of the fun, delightful, and awkward bits, included.