The blog post this week has taken a couple of odd twists based on current events. My topic for the week was and is “readiness” and being ready to change when the opportunities present themselves. I wrote this post a couple weeks ago but as world events have played out this week I felt like I wanted to rewrite it, especially after a long conversation today with my brother about Baltimore, but that didn’t feel right either. Where I ended up is this week is going to be a two piece blog post. First I will give you what I originally wrote, then I will add some of my current thoughts on readiness as they apply to current events.
My original post
Random Ramblings: The Choice vs The Chosen
Too often my opening conversation with a new client is about the different personalities in their firm. I am not sure if this is because they are trying to warn me what I am getting myself into or if they think their problems are really unique. By the way, they’re not, I joke often my job is a lot like the movie Groundhog Day, the same personalities with different faces. Sadly most organizations face the same challenges. Not only do they want to tell me how difficult certain people are, but they also want to make sure I know how they handle change.
Talking solely about how anyone always handles change is really unfair. Yes, like I discussed in my post about Who Moved My Cheese, there are definite personality types and related behaviors. But one variable that is often overlooked when we relegate someone to just their personality is whether it is a change the person decided to embrace or one they were handed without a voice in the matter.
Immediately when I bring this topic up I start hearing comments about “Bob is a total control freak” or “Sally doesn’t like when you rock her boat”. And yes control plays a part in this too, but to pin it all on the lack or amount of control oversimplifies the issue. If it was only about control or choice no one would ever be happy to find out they won an award they didn’t know they were nominated for, no parents would ever be thrilled at an unplanned pregnancy and we would never be happy when we find money in our pocket we didn’t know was there. These all change our life and we didn’t control them happening. On the reverse side, if it was all about control the person who loses a job they have hated would never feel a sense of relief to finally have to make the move, the individual who felt stuck in a relationship but didn’t know how to get out would never feel liberated when their partner asked for a divorce and no parent whose adult child announces they were unexpectedly moving out would smile at the thought of finally having that workout room.
None of these changes being viewed as a positive were about control or choice, they were about readiness. I perceive readiness as a key factor in both personal and organizational change. So much so that when I do my primary analysis on a new potential client I base my decision to move forward with them or not on this one factor. We may talk about a million things in the meeting but I walk out asking myself one question “Are they ready?”.
Without being ready all the good intentions in the world won’t get anyone to their end goal. Lack of readiness results in multiple missed starts, incomplete projects and a general sense of spinning one’s wheels.
Readiness includes factors like how willing the key players are to let go of the past (emotionally and procedurally), how willing they are to acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers or they already would have made the change, how willing they are to invest the resources needed (time, money, man power) to the effort, how large a burden they see the change as being and how open they are to accepting help from others to reach their goal. If they aren’t ready it is a waste of their time, money and the one true chance they get to sell the idea in their firm.
Knowing if you are ready for a change is a hard measurement to take honestly of yourself or your organization, especially if you aren’t ready. That is where folks like me come in. Those of us who have managed many changes and have seen success and failure. Who can see the pitfalls that a newbie might not realize are lurking. Most importantly someone who can be objective without emotional involvement and see things as they are not as they want them to be.
Believe me there is no bigger red flag than when I tell a firm or a friend they aren’t ready and they want to argue the point. I smile to myself because I know they are trying to talk themselves into it as much as me. My most successful clients are those who are willing to hear this advice, agree to work on items that are standing in their way of readiness and then re-approach their primary goal. Typically I am sending them away to work on their leadership skills, to address problems in their culture that until addressed will derail any significant change or to add additional resources that can smooth the path.
There is an often used cliché in change management that you are ready for change when the pain of staying the same becomes worse than the pain of making a change. There is validity in this. If you look back at my examples above, this is clearly the case of the employee relieved to be let go from a job they hated or the partner who is freed from a bad relationship. They can see that although this change is really not their choice, it is the lessor of two evils and so they are ready. Even the surprised parents can see that while it will be hard to let go it will be worth it. They are ready.
New thoughts since writing/applied thoughts
Random Ramblings: Getting Society Talking Readiness
This had been a tough week in America. We have had to stop and face some truths about ourselves and about society that aren’t always easy. It started with an arrest and then death of an individual and has now turned to rioting and nationwide protests. The media is in our faces about it constantly and there are very few people around me who don’t have a strong opinion on it. Some say it is all a result of decimation and racism, others say it is a moral issue and poor values, still others say it is the fault of our government and not having enough social programs.
I will not get into my stance on it here, this blog is not a place for politics and ethics debate, but as I was having a very interesting conversation with my brother about it all I found myself talking about change and readiness with him. We were discussing why is it that some people can be faced with many challenges in life and yet still find their way out and move forward and yet others can be handed tons of help and support and never move on. The answer I arrived at as we talked was readiness for change.
The analogy that came up in our conversation seems a lot safer to talk about than race, battered women. Why is it that two women in equal circumstances, with equal resourses will make two different choices. Why will one choose to stay despite offered help and support and the other will take the help and support and move on? Readiness! One is willing to face the fears that come with change while the other will accept the pain of their current situation over the unknown of something else.
The situation is not a lot different when it comes to our cities in America and the people who live in them. Some cities have faced the changes that the post-factory world brings, they have reinvented themselves and found new life blood. Syracuse NY where I lived for many years is one of these cities. They saw a need, they were ready for the change and they went for it. Others have held on to mourning the loss of factories, they have stalled in the suffering that the loss of those industries brought and they have not moved forward. I was very surprised to learn that Baltimore is the biggest city with not one Fortune 500 company based there.
The cities’ reactions are really the reflection of it’s citizens. I have read over and over this week how the flaws with Baltimore are that people with money moved on to other opportunities and those left behind are stuck in poor conditions. I find it interesting to blame those who saw the situation and “followed the cheese”, and could write in-depth on that, but what I find more interesting is that people want to base this difference on money.
The rich left, the poor stayed. I see it differently. The ready left, the unready stayed. And by ready I again mean emotionally. It is hard to leave what you know, where you grew up, where your parents grew up, but many people stay too long and pay the price. The thing holding them back is not their finances, they are already in terrible shape where they are, somewhere else couldn’t be that much worse, but their ability to adapt and change.
In my mind, our readiness to change, to reinvent ourselves, is why one person can be placed into a given social program and use it as a stepping stone to pull themselves up and start a new life and someone in the same program to go no where and revert back to where they were.
Our ability to change is not rooted in our race, our gender, our socio-economic status, our genetics (thank god) or all the other ratings grabbing topics the media wants us to focus on. I think it is time that we stopped having so much conversation in this country about the haves and have-nots and started reshaping the conversation to the readys and not-readys. We need to discuss not how do we add another welfare program or social service program, but how we get people ready to embrace what the programs have to offer. Because until we address ready we are going to continue to leave many segments of our society, the most vulnerable segments, right where they are, no matter how much assistance we throw at the problems.