Episode #29

How to Get People’s Attention When Current Reality is Entrenched

with Dr. Linda Ackerman Anderson

Most organizations with long and successful histories are tough to change. Yet change they must. How can leaders get the attention of their managers and stakeholders that a major change is needed, coming and serious? This episode describes the strategy of Bold Actions that do just this! Leaders must consciously alert their organizations to make necessary change—from the very beginning.


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Welcome to Ask Dr. Change. I’m Dr. Linda Ackerman Anderson. I’m happy to have you join me today to explore how to seriously up level your leadership and consulting to transformational changes all through conscious change leadership.

Welcome. Today’s episode responds to a question. I get a lot of How do we get people’s attention when our current reality has been really successful and is really entrenched? We’ve been added a long time.

So many organizations are functioning in longstanding tried and true ways of operating, producing the same outcomes when it’s time to make a change in that reality, it’s essential to get people’s attention that change is needed, essential and really going to happen. It’s not just flavor of the month. This is something we need to take on collectively. We can’t wait it out, although a lot of people think, okay, I’ll just wait this out, or maybe a change of command will get in the way of making this happen.

We won’t have to do it. Or if I dig in my heels, maybe I won’t have to go through this. the idea of, you know, I’ve talked a lot about resistance, but We need to be able to get people’s attention, especially if our change is transformational, which means a major shift in reality, a major change in the way the organization operates, or what services or products it provides it, or perhaps a way in which the culture and its norms are currently functioning. Perhaps there’s an ethics issue.

Whatever it is, there is something that needs to be radically different and is very different than the way it’s been for decades. That’s the set of circumstances we’re dealing with here. How do we get people’s attention? Our strategy is to design what we call bold action to wake people up, to alert them, to stir the pot, to rock the boat, to specifically not make them comfortable, not have this be easy, but to get their attention, to say this is what we need to do and this is actually going to happen.

So I wanted to describe a little bit more about what a bold action is and its qualities, because this is important in terms of you designing these. They also, by the way, get designed very early on in your chain strategy. I’ll talk a little bit more about that. Bold actions are designed to get people’s attention about a new behavior, a new circumstance, a new product, a new service, a new way of operating.

They need to demonstrate a different reality or the need for a different reality, perhaps a very different future. They can be exciting and compelling or threatening and attention. Getting the outcome needs to be people being compelled to realize they need to take on the change. Really important is honoring the past so that people aren’t a media totally resistant to say, You’re telling me I’m a failure.

What I’ve been doing is wrong. It’s a matter of honoring the past so that people can let it go and move into the future you’re asking them to take on. It’s more than an event, although frequently they’re described or designed as events. It’s a process that requires design, determining when and where it’s going to happen, setting it up, delivering it, following up and reinforcing.

That’s the bold action process design determined when and where. Set it up, deliver follow up and reinforce. The key message out of a bold action is we are serious about this change and we need you with us. This is an attention getter to say, please, if not, please, you must be in the boat with us and this is how and why.

So this really goes at the psyche, the emotions that get people’s attention. I want to give you a variety of examples, and then you can be thinking for yourselves in your own transformations, what kinds of bold actions might be needed because people are complacent or they’re not believing or they’re resisting. So here are a variety of examples of things that we’ve either seen or heard about or done. The easiest, of course, is a big splash announcement and done in a very different way, whether it’s live, face to face in group video, whatever it is, perhaps a bold announcement of something radically different.

I will share with you as much as it is an example, it’s the least impactful because it doesn’t necessarily get people engaged. Another example is a change of leadership. Who gets promoted and why? People immediately start interpreting promotions or demotions, or people retiring or being asked to retire or put on special assignment.

So any shift in leadership has the possibility of a major message buried in it for people to understand, You know, folks that support the future, the folks that resist the future, those will be interpretation filters for who’s position gets changed. In one major merger that we supported, this was really unique. We asked all the management from each organization to come together to gather their physical signs of the existing organization organization A, an organization B, to come together, whether it was business cards or paper or logos, those kinds of things to bring them together. And we

designed, with the support of the local fire department, bringing people together in a large field. And in the middle of the field was a huge, well-built wooden box that looked a lot like, a funeral box. And so we asked everyone to line up and put all of their representations of their old organizations into the box. And then with the fire department there, we burned it.

Everybody’s documentation, everybody’s representation and symbols went into the funeral pyre and it got burned. And what happened as a result? Then to follow up, everyone was given IOUs of the new organization that the merged organization would become new titles, new name of the organization. We didn’t know everybody’s details in terms of their roles and positions, yet it wasn’t that far along, but we gave them symbolic representation of the new joined organization they were going to be a part of.

In another organization. We built a museum. The organization was I can’t remember, maybe, you know, 70 years old. So it had a whole series of products in its history.

we built a museum in the headquarters lobby and put all of the products from the very beginning, under glass, demonstrated, laid out in a beautiful, honorable fashion for all of the history of that organization. And at the end of the line was the current product under glass And the power of that message that we are moving on into something new, honoring what we’re currently doing but not sticking with it. That was very, very powerful for everybody. One story I want to share with you is something that we heard about.

We didn’t actually do it, but we heard about it. And it’s just such a great example. So there was a manufacturing organization and in this particular location they were really struggling and they weren’t able to produce. They were losing money.

There were lots of, you know, backlash and politics and upset. And no matter what leadership attempted to do at this one location, they were unable to fulfill their expectations. And so the leader got together with a consultant who actually did this bold action, and they called a meeting of management at 6:00 in the morning. And they typically started work around seven.

So 6:00 in the morning, it was pretty early and they previously worked with the local newspaper, the town’s newspaper, to actually print the day’s newspaper with a different headline. And just for this meeting and the headline was planned to Close Town Crushed. sitting at everybody’s place around the conference table

at 6:00 in the morning was this newspaper with this headline Plant to Close Town Crushed. And everyone came and sat down and looked at the newspaper and you could hear a pin drop, a lot of hemming and hawing and the leadership came in and said, just kidding. If we don’t get our act together, this is what will happen. And told them that in fact it was just a tool to get their attention and it worked.

And then they proceeded to do what they needed to do get over their little bellyaching and politicking and backstabbing and all kinds of things to be able to actually increase production and performance. So fortunately, nobody had a heart attack over that one, but it was a powerful, bold action. so that is one of our more extremes. In one other case, in a very positive, bold action, we worked with an electric utility for several years and CEO, called a two day visioning session with all of management for two days to envision a different future for that organization.

It was during a major time of change in the electric utility industry, and so all management, never been brought together before. And they got together for two days and the CEO said, we need to create a new future. Collectively, I don’t have the answer. I need you.

And so very well designed, well crafted series of exercises and experiences for the two days for all of management to come up with their possibilities for the new future. It was extremely powerful. So lots of stories, some big, some a little smaller. What might be your bold actions?

What might be the kinds of things that you could do? And so it’s important for you to think about what ideas you have. Sometimes they’re fun, sometimes they’re challenging, sometimes they’re scary or threatening. When would you be doing this?

Ideally, we create bold actions during the development of your change strategy at the very beginning of a transformational change. It’s one of the elements of change strategy to get people’s attention. And so whether or not you carry it out at launch, which might also be when or when it’s appropriate to communicate or to demonstrate, you’ll figure out when in your change process, an event such as this or a series of events such as this might take place. And then it’s really important to sustain the impact of it during the change process, especially if the change is going to take a long time or you find it lagging.

It might be something to support a recommitment strategy, it might be something to support things slowing down or not getting traction. And those also might be times any change effort might have more than one bold action. It might have a series of bold actions. Any of that’s possible.

It’s when you need to get people’s attention. Who carries this out? Most powerful is leadership. That’s who people are looking at.

How serious are they? What is really going to happen here? Are they going to see this through rather than change it again and again and again? So ideally, it’s designed around leadership, partaking in it.

So how to handle the reaction? Obviously, in some of the examples that I gave you, there’s reaction. So a couple of critical guidelines here allow the chatter. There’s going to be a major buzz with something like this, allow the chatter to continue to seed the message in your communications, in your leadership modeling, in support of moving in the new direction.

People need to see that it wasn’t just an event that actually has legs and teeth reinforce with new behaviors or new norms, especially if the leaders can be the models modeling the new reality really critical periodically over time. So maybe they need coaching or support and figuring out how to do this all fine. Address your naysayers and any negative rumors I mean, people put spin on things. I mean, we see it all the time in politics.

So address the negative rumors, address the naysayers in ways that can honor what message they may be bringing and how to sideline them, put them off to the side, or reduce the power of their impact in what it is you’re attempting to do. Keep the new direction visible. That’s important. This has to continue to communicate the right message moving forward.

And for you personally, remain confident in what you’re asking of the organization, even as you figure out the process, even as things may shift direction or need to be course corrected, you need to remain confident in moving ahead, not blindly, because sometimes there is information in the organization of the need to to actually make a course correction. But your confidence in the message of the bold action needs to remain consistent, bold actions, really important. So a pro tip for you when the ways of operating in your organization have a long history. You know, utilities are very frequently like this.

The banks insurance, they have long histories. And so this is a strategy to carefully consider, carefully design and deploy, engage your leaders. This is not something you can do for the leaders. Engage your leaders in the design and the execution.

They need to be believable. They need to be fully in the saddle of doing this because otherwise people will actually seek out where this doesn’t really have truth in it, doesn’t really have full alignment in it. So the leaders need to be fully engaged in this. Keep your message front and center.

And doing bold actions is not a marginal thing. You’ve got to stay on top of doing it and absolutely stay on top of the aftermath. That’s where the staying power will have its most important impact. Now, personal reflection for you.

I’m curious, when in your life have you experienced a bold action that really got your attention? Maybe it was something that someone designed to get your attention. Maybe it was just a little a life event that occurred and it got your attention. Was it a negative experience or a positive experience?

You know, what occurred? Was it an accident or a sickness or the birth of a baby or getting a new position or getting fired or what? What were those things that occurred in your life? How did you handle the shock of it?

What did you go through? What was your internal process? What was your emotional process in handling it? How did you handle the impact it had on your life?

Did you get the message? I will say frequently, if you don’t get the message, something else will happen to give you that message. And so it’s really important to eke out the value that’s possible for you with the bold actions that may have occurred or have occurred in your life. This awareness of your own process and your own experiences will help you design this work of bold actions in your change.

Work in your change Leadership in your change. Consulting. It’s really important to have experienced the process of getting attention, making sense of the attention the meaning of it, what to do with it, and how to actually have it have positive value for you as you proceed with your life and your work. Bold actions.

I hope you’ve experienced them and I hope you will plan them and I hope they will have the positive impact you need them to have on the transformations you’re leading. Thanks for spending time with me today. I hope you found value in it. Today’s subject is one of the key topics that we feature in our leading transformational change online program.

If you’d like to learn more about leading transformation social change, go to beingfirst.com/LTC. Thanks for spending some time with me today. I hope you gain some valuable insights for your work. Please send me your questions and challenges by going to askdrchange.com.


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