Tag Archives | Organizational change

Organizational Change and Leadership Burnout

With Corporate America as volatile as it’s ever been, how are you supposed to have any energy left for yourself or your family when you go home at the end of the day? Here are four tips to help you avoid leadership burnout.

It’s true that executive teams are putting more and more pressure on leaders and that we are experiencing unprecedented change in the workplace. But, how much pressure do you put on yourself to:

  • Engage and motivate your direct reports every day in spite of a meaningful lack of strategic direction or focus?Organizational Change
  • Continually challenge your team to find innovative ways to do more with less?
  • Enthusiastically take on an ever-increasing number of projects?

All of the above are key elements of being a good leader, and on the good days you probably take everything in stride.  On the bad days, though, it may be all you can do to help everyone else just hang in there, let alone yourself.

If you have started to dream about your job every night, if your attention on weekends is tangled up in problem-solving and focused more on the upcoming week than the present moment, here are four tips you may find useful:

1. Whatever is happening at work is just a point in time:  Many of the women in my mother-in-law’s church have been known to say “this too shall pass” when life is just too much to bear. It helps to remember that whatever stress we are experiencing in any given moment really is just a point in time.

2. 9s beat 8s, so apply the Span of Control Model to your current situation:  “Sher, your major problem is that you keep forgetting 9s beat 8s every time in poker. You are an 8. It doesn’t matter what you think about this situation. The 9s have all the power. You have no control, and this is not part of your job. So, give up, and move on.” Rick a director of Human Resources, was a good colleague of mine. I have never forgotten his advice.

Earlier in my career, I took on more extra work than I ever needed to. I did it because I believed that if I just worked hard enough, long enough, talked to the right people, and didn’t give up I could make a bigger difference. Sometimes it made sense to take on this extra work. Other times it didn’t, and my energy was misspent instead of focused. I would go home stressed and unable to forget about work.  Then, a friend drew the Span of Control model on a napkin and explained it to me one night over dinner. (See figure above.*)

When we truly focus on what is within our area of responsibility first, then judiciously consider where we might influence a situation—and quit stressing about those things that are totally outside of our control, our jobs are much more manageable–and so is our stress level.

3. Know when to fold:  I’d been hired to build a new department at GE, and I’d just hired a new manager. About a month after she started, she came into my office to tell me an opportunity had come up for her to move into another field, and she had to take it. She apologized, but I understood. The problem I faced was that our business group was under pressure to control hiring—not exactly a hiring freeze—but close. I knew that if I built my case and asked my CEO for permission to replace her, he would probably say yes. I also knew he would not be happy about it. On the other hand, I was charged with building a strong new department. I wanted to do the best job I could for my business unit, so I was pretty stressed out about what to do.

Finally, I went in and explained to the CEO that the new manager I’d hired the month before had a new opportunity. I told him that given the current hiring situation, I was proposing that we hold off on replacing her. I explained that I could still deliver on all the key projects, and that some of the nice-to-have projects could easily be put on hold for a few months.

Two fantastic things happened as a result. First, all the stress I’d put on myself about having to fight to build this new department was alleviated by the support I got from all my executive team mates as they worked with me to prioritize what really needed to happen. Nine months later, my department had accomplished everything we’d promised. The second good thing happened when the CEO called me into his office. He said “I want to thank you, Sher, for giving up your open position. It was a stressful time for our business unit, and now things are back on track. Your team has done a great job this year, and I want you to think about how you want to build your department.” That day he told me I could design the department in any way I wished and that he would support any hires I wanted to make.

4. Learn how to go with the flow:  This phrase was quite popular in the 1970s. One day not too long ago, a friend of mine asked me if I really knew what it meant. My reply was something along the lines of “it means that you have no power and to accept where the river of life chooses to send you.” His response was an immediate, “Nope. What it really means is that you have to use all your experience and talent to dip your paddle in the flow of what is happening and begin to move in the direction you really want to go.” Thought provoking, isn’t it?

What helps me most when times are stressful at work, when I think if I work a little longer or a little harder, is to remember what’s really important. There will always be another crisis or a new challenge at work. In fact, there will always be another job. What we all have to remember, is that work is just a part of our lives. It isn’t our whole life.  What matters is our family and our friends. In the end, no one can control how much we work, how much we sacrifice for our jobs but us.


*Note: I have not able to find the source for this model. If anyone knows of it, please send me a note.

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Launch Organizational Change with a Metaphor

Engage employees on all three levels of communication to launch effective organizational change.

Marie was a new business unit leader in this Fortune 500 manufacturing company. Her charge was to launch a transformation, which included evaluating every aspect of their production and introducing Lean Six Sigma.

Marie knew about all the rumblings that had been going on about the anticipated changes she would lead. She understood that in order to achieve this transformation, she would have to communicate in a way that would capture people’s attention and let them know that to survive in the marketplace they would have to change the way they did business.

She wanted to demonstrate, somehow, that change was not an option. She understood that she needed to connect with employees on all Three Levels of Communication™:

  • Intellectual—employees understood what needed to happen and why.
  • Emotional—employees experienced and participated in events that inspired them.
  • Practical—employees knew how they could make a personal contribution.

“I’ve spoken to most of you in this room over the past month,” she said, facing all 500 of the plant’s employees during her first all-employee meeting. “You’ve told me that the way we’ve been doing business isn’t working anymore. That said, we all know that changing what we are used to doing on a daily basis is hard.”

Marie reached down and grabbed a pair of safety goggles. Slipping them on, she picked up an old ceramic jug and a hammer. Raising the jug high so that everyone could see, she smashed it.

The eyes of every person in that room were riveted on Marie.

“This jug will never be the same, no matter how hard we might try to put it back together the way it used to be. It’s been changed by outside forces. Just like us.”

Marie looked from one person in the room to another. “We cannot keep doing business the way we’ve done it in the past. Not if we want to be successful in today’s market. So, I challenge all of you. Help me create new ways to understand and serve our customers. I need your ideas, your insights, and your expertise.”

This is a true story. Marie launched her change that day with the metaphor of a broken jug. She went on and presented some facts and figures. Then, everyone broke into team meetings to talk about what was working and what was not working. Everyone understood they had just taken the first step, and that the work they needed to do was monumental and still before them. But, they were intrigued by this leader’s approach, and they were open to learning more about how they could participate.

Launching change is easy, but it takes a multi-faceted communication plan to ensure effective, measurable organizational change over time. If you haven’t had a chance yet, go to the sidebar next to this blog and download your free eBook: Launching Organizational Change. Learn about:

  • The Three Levels of Leadership Communication™.
  • How to avoid the three most common communication mistakes leaders make.
  • Five critical success factors to accelerate any organizational change.

Stay tuned for future blogs. Effective change requires showing—not just telling employees what needs to happen. A variety of communication techniques exist that will engage employees on an emotional level:

    1. Show a movie clip.
    2. Share a metaphor.
    3. Involve employees with exercises, games, or experiences.
    4. Tell stories.

Over the next few weeks, I will provide examples of movie clips you can use for specific purposes, a list of excellent metaphors, and a variety of exercises, games, and stories that you can use to help accelerate change in your organization. Next week, I’ll feature movie clips.

When you launch a change in your department or organization, how do you engage employees on all three levels of communication?

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